From the May 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

Thanks to technology, information theft is a growth industry these days-and companies are losing money. A survey jointly conducted by the American Society for Industrial Security and Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, found that proprietary information theft cost Fortune 1,000 companies more than $45 billion in 1999.

Even if you're not a major corporation, you still have proprietary information to protect, and smaller companies often have a tougher job protecting themselves than larger corporations with dedicated security staffs. According to Bill Boni, a former director at Pricewaterhouse-Coopers' investigation group in Los Angeles and co-author of the survey, "Even though legal safeguards do exist for information theft, they're after the fact, so if you don't have a large war chest to spend on attorney's fees, safeguarding your information is the best thing to do."

What are information thieves looking for? Concepts or sources of innovation that give you a competitive edge. Here are two simple ways to protect yourself: Do background and police checks on new hires and use locks and keys to deter snoops and criminals. Says Boni, "Your competitive information is your crown jewels, and they should be locked up with only owner access."

Ellen Paris is a Washington, DC, writer and former Forbes magazine staff writer.