The recent hack into the Houston Astros’ Ground Control database may be unprecedented in sports, but it has echoes of countless trade secret theft cases in the business world. And even if the culprit turns out to be just one or two “rogue elements” within the Cardinals’ front office, it also offers lessons to high-level executives who change jobs.
Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow told Sports Illustrated that he is scrupulous about his “password hygiene,” so he wouldn’t have been so careless to use the same password at the Astros as he did when he was at the Cardinals (where he was an executive from 2003 to 2011).
“A lot of my job in baseball, as it was in high tech, is to make sure that intellectual property is protected,” Luhnow told SI. “I take that seriously and hold myself and those who work for me to a very high standard.”
It’s a safe bet, though, that somebody slipped up on their password hygiene, whether it was Luhnow or one of the former Cardinals’ staffers who joined him at the Astros. That slip-up allowed someone within the Cardinals’ front office – according to the New York Times – to log in to the Astros’ database and glimpse the team’s player intelligence.
According to news reports, Ground Control contains scouting and medical reports and statistical projections, among other data, for every professional player and amateur prospect on the pro radar. In theory, a competitor who could hack into an opposing team’s database would have the keys to the kingdom.
Except Luhnow insists that they wouldn’t. As he told SI:
Further, Luhnow added, the idea that one team’s outdated intellectual property would have remained helpful to a rival even in the short term is illogical. ‘If you were to take a snapshot of the database of one team, within a month it would not be useful anymore, because things change so quickly,’ he said. ‘Not to mention that the types of analysis you would do back in 2011, versus 2012 or ’13 , is evolving so quickly because of new tools like PitchFX and StatCast. I wouldn’t trust another team’s analysis even if I had it.’
This is often a key point in trade secret and noncompete cases: yesterday’s “confidential information” is today’s cold pizza. And if that information no longer gives the holder of it a competitive advantage, there’s no point in fighting over it (either through the enforcement of a noncompete or trade secret litigation).
Obviously, this case is still unfolding and, as of this writing, federal investigators are still working on finding the culprit or culprits. Like baseball fans everywhere, I’m monitoring the situation daily. In the meantime, here’s the takeaway for the rest of us:
- Protection of confidential information is always important. In fact, this case has prompted the Texas Rangers to review their cybersecurity procedures. No matter what level you work in a company, if you have access to confidential company information, keep it secure. And vary your password and your password-selection conventions. Nobody should be able to figure out your July password if they know your June password.
- If you’re an executive subject to a noncompete, be mindful that the information your employer wants to claim is top secret may be obsolete in the time it takes you to drive home. So consult an attorney if you believe you’re being unjustly deprived of your professional mobility.