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Perimeter

2/2/2009
02:57 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Going Public About Corporate Espionage

Corporate espionage probably goes on every day. I suspect we don't hear about it because of the high stakes involved; companies don't want their reputation tarnished as the victim or perpetrator of espionage, especially if the intrusion was successful and trade secrets were lost. Another more probable reason is that it goes completely unnoticed. And in the few cases we do hear about, the victim is sometimes publicly calling the attacker out to embarrass them and win some public opinion in their

Corporate espionage probably goes on every day. I suspect we don't hear about it because of the high stakes involved; companies don't want their reputation tarnished as the victim or perpetrator of espionage, especially if the intrusion was successful and trade secrets were lost. Another more probable reason is that it goes completely unnoticed. And in the few cases we do hear about, the victim is sometimes publicly calling the attacker out to embarrass them and win some public opinion in their favor.Today, I received a press release stating that NewRiver is suing MorningStar for "unlawful access to its Prospectus Express Web-based data warehouse and unfair competition related to NewRiver's Prospectus Express product." At first I thought this was going to be an interesting case of one company hacking another until I read The Wall Street Journal article linked in the e-mail accompanying the press release. According to the article, "Suit Alleges Internet Espionage," MorningStar gained access through a "secret Web address."

Ooooh, a secret Web address. Did anyone tell NewRiver that security through obscurity is pretty much worthless as a standalone protection? Sure, it can help when layered with numerous security measures, but don't ever rely solely on it. The article goes on to state that NewRiver "says tighter security could make it difficult for legitimate customers to use the site."

To me, that says the data they're trying to protect with a "secret Web address" is not very valuable, but that can't be true if they've built a $30 million business around this service. MorningStar's spokeswoman even said they did not access any password-protected site.

This will be an interesting case to follow to see if publicizing the lawsuit was a good idea, but my initial take is that it's going to blow up in NewRiver's face. The Wall Street Journal article also points to the need of having an IT-savvy public relations person handling the interviews so things like "secret Web address" don't end up in the media.

All that being said, this is simply my opinion and interpretation of the information put forth by the press release and related article. I'm obviously looking at it from a purely technical standpoint. Have a differing view? Let me hear about it.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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