A brilliant idea. A great team to work on it. A fridge full of Red Bull. Those are the first three items on every tech startup's checklist (more or less). Much farther down the list - if it's there at all - is the security plan the startup needs to protect its brilliant idea from theft.

That needs to change.

Most startups take the obvious measures:

  • Be careful who you hire
  • Don't leave your laptop at the café
  • Don't share your business plan too freely, even with potential clients (as ReadWriteWeb contributor Steve Blank learned the hard way)

And then there are all the not-so-obvious measures:

  • Put up a firewall
  • Install anti-hacking software
  • Hire an IT geek to lock down your networks
  • And many more

The problem is, these steps are obvious, too. They just cost money, so a lot of cash-strapped startups decide to put them off until "later."

Trouble is, by putting off these critical steps, your startup risks the real possibility that there will be no "later." If some other company steals your intellectual property, your dreams can give way to lights out, a phone call to the lawyer, and "Who wants some vodka in their Red Bull?"

And don't think that you're safe just because you're small. "IP theft is happening a lot more in startups," says Chris Porter, senior security analyst at Verizon and coauthor of Verizon's recently released 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report. "IP theft and other data breaches at startups are definitely trending up."

Worse, Porter warns, breaches of intellectual property are hard to detect. If someone steals your credit card number, you'll probably see the results in your online account statement. But if someone heists the software code at the core of your business, you may not know about it until you discover some rival company selling your service to their clients.

"There is not a fraud algorithm out there that lets you know your IP has been stolen," Porter explains. "If you find out about it, it's because a competitor of yours has put one of your features in their product. This is hard enough for big businesses to combat, but small businesses that don't have IT staff and security staff and technology to help them with these things, they really have a hard time."

Porter recommends startups find a trusted partner, a third-party cloud-based solution to manage IP security for you. "The argument can be made for both financial reasons and security reasons," he says. "A service you have contracts with is liable if a breach happens. It can be a lot cheaper than doing this type of protection yourself."

Whatever you do, you can't ignore the security issue until "later." No amount of Red Bull can save your startup once your IP has been stolen.