Hackers offer data for cash

Information brokers are offering to break into corporate computer systems and steal company secrets for cash.

Information brokers are offering to break into corporate computer systems and steal company secrets for cash.

At least two large UK corporations have lost confidential product details to hackers looking for a quick profit within the past 18 months. The thefts only came to light when rival firms decided to blow the whistle rather than pay out money for the stolen secrets.

In one case a hacker managed to steal the confidential plans of a prototype product from an engineering firm and touted it to the company's rivals. Private investigators from Carratu International traced the hacker to Russia and mounted an elaborate sting operation to secure his arrest.

"The hacker got wind of it at the last minute. We were trying to bring him to a country where we could have had him arrested, but he was suspicious and refused to come," said investigator Gavin Hyde-Blake.

In the second case, a hacker broke into a pharmaceutical company's computer systems and retrieved the results of a highly confidential drugs trail, which he attempted to sell to a rival firm for £500,000. This time the sting operation resulted in the hacker's arrest and imprisonment.

But these incidents, which came to light because of the honesty of rival firms, may just be the tip of the iceberg, said Paul Carratu, managing director at Carratu International. "I have come across four information brokers in the UK. They are usually one-man bands. They hack into systems and then approach competitors," he said.

Although UK firms often raise they alarm if they are approached with a rival's secrets, overseas firms are not always so honest. "The British have a sense of fair play and are more capable of being honest," said Carratu. "If hackers offer information to a US or French firm, they may have no qualms about accepting it."

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Imis backs Computer Weekly campaign
One of the UK's most influential IT lobby groups has put its weight behind Computer Weekly's Lock Down the Law campaign to update the UK's cybercrime laws.

The Institute for the Management of Information Systems (Imis) called on members of the IT industry to join forces to address fears over cybercrime, rather than relying solely on government action. "The fear of electronically assisted crime is now a showstopper for even the most obviously attractive e-commerce applications," said Philip Virgo, strategic advisor at Imis. "We have to get our act together as an industry as well as calling on government to do its part."

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