Intelligence and Reconnaissance
Companies publish a great deal of information about themselves online, intending to reach their customers - but this also means that the information is available to their competition.
Knowing Your Competitor
Perusing your competitor's Web sites provides you with a wealth of information about them - more than they probably realize they are giving away.
The author suggests some key areas to consider:
- The content of the site, especially the marketing messages it contains
- Any attempt to collect user information
- Where password gateways are used to protect information
- Their product offering (including new product announcements)
- Pricing information
- User experience (the author speaks of various factors about the use of the site that don't pertain to the data)
Aside of their Web site, look for sites that link to theirs, and mentions of them in public Internet forums. Do a NIOC search and see what other Web sites the company operates (other than their primary one).
You can also gather the names of key employees at rival firms and do a further search to see what information is available about them, or what information they disclose about their employer.
He also suggests using an anonymous location and using neutral e-mail address, so that you look like a "normal" site visitor, such that the competitor is not tipped off that you're snooping their site.
Using the Usenet and Listservs for Undercover Work
In addition to using the Web, consider going "undercover" on newsgroups and mailing lists to gather information about competitors. Again, you can pose as a "normal" person and participate in the discussion to gather additional information.
Spying for New Business
In addition to using the Internet to gather intelligence about competitors, you can use it to gather information about prospective vendors and even prospective customers. Any information you find will be to your advantage.
Spying on Yourself
Finally, turn your intelligence-gathering skills on your own company to discover what others might be finding out about you. This can help you address your blind spots, and discover places where you might want to be a bit more discreet with information.
There's not much you can do to prevent your competitors from using the internet to find any information you put online for the public. Even technical tricks, such as blocking a competitor's IP block from accessing your Web server, is merely an inconvenience (they can go to a different location).
You can, however, consider whether the information hung out there for all to see really should be in the public eye, or whether it should be placed behind a password gateway or taken offline altogether. However, don't go overboard - if your paranoia about being scrutinized by competitors prevents you from providing information to customers (and potential customers), it may be doing more harm than good.