By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

Corporate America faces a new kind of cracker. Information-technology managers and chief technology officers—the people charged with safeguarding corporate networks—are engaging in acts of digital espionage. In the past two years, a half-dozen c

Slippery Slope
Most corporate spies are never caught. What's reported in the news is the failed attempts, says consultant Kevin Murray, who helps organizations deploy electronic countermeasures. "There are a lot of cases like this that never reach the light of day."

Most corporate spies cover their tracks. Watchfire's Orrin says hackers will use techniques such as "IP spoofing," so messages look as if they're coming from a trusted IP address.

But even if they catch intruders, companies are reluctant to prosecute trespassers, fearing the publicity might encourage more attacks or that customers may shy away from a company that can't protect its electronic information.

The slight risk of being caught and the even less likely result of being prosecuted just add to the temptation many CTOs and technology managers may feel when asked to "help" other employees spy on their competition.

Granted, any number of factors could motivate a corporate technologist to commit espionage. "Some of it is flat-out greed. Some of it is being competitive," Winkler says.

But he and other espionage experts think it may just be a matter of a CIO or CTO taking small steps—searching for a competitor's password, or trying out a new hacker tool or technique to tap into a database and bring back valuable information. The hope? To be a hero with higher-ups.

Assuming they're not caught.

"I think it's a matter of a bunch of people sitting around saying, here's what we need," Winkler says. "And, it's like, 'Joe you're the head of I.T., you should be smart enough to figure out how to do this—go do it.'"

There's a "naiveté that what they're doing isn't bad," he adds. "It's a slippery slope.''

This article was originally published on 2004-12-01
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.