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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Insider Tries to Steal $400 Million at DuPont

Unusual computer activity is tipoff in successful case against chemist who tried to steal intellectual property for his new employer

A Delaware chemist yesterday plead guilty to stealing some $400 million worth of DuPont trade secrets, which he had planned to offer to his new employer.

Computer security played a key role in the case. The chemist, Gary Min, was spotted when he began accessing an unusually high volume of abstracts and full-text PDF documents from DuPont's Electronic Data Library (EDL), a Delaware-based database server which is one of DuPont's primary storage repositories for confidential information.

Between Aug. 2005 and Dec. 12, 2005, Min downloaded some 22,000 abstracts and about 16,700 documents -- 15 times the number of abstracts and reports accessed by the next-highest user of the EDL, according to documents unsealed yesterday by Colm Connolly, U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware.

"The vast majority of Min's EDL searches were unrelated to his research responsibilities and his work on high-performance films," the documents said. "Rather, Min's EDL searches covered most of DuPont's major technologies and product lines as well as new and emerging technologies in the research and development stage. The fair market value of the technology accessed by Min exceeded $400 million."

Min began downloading the documentation about two months before he received an official job offer from Victrex, a DuPont competitor, in October 2005. The new job was slated to begin in January of 2006, but Min did not tell DuPont he was leaving until December 2005, according to the documents. It was after he announced his departure that DuPont's IT staff detected the high volume of downloads from Min's computer.

When the FBI raided Min's house, they found several computers containing DuPont documents marked "confidential." A software erasure program had been launched on an external disk drive of one of the computers, which was in the process of erasing the entire drive. Agents also found several garbage bags full of shredded DuPont documents and the remains of numerous confidential documents in ashes in Min's fireplace. Min also was storing documents in a storage unit and in a separate one-bedroom apartment, the documents said.

Victrex was not accused of conspiring with Min. In fact, the company assisted authorities in collecting evidence against him, according to the documents.

While DuPont's IT staff may have been heroes in detecting and nailing Min, they are also goats for letting him get as far as he did. Experts point out that Min should not have had access to so many confidential documents, especially those unrelated to his work. Closer attention to log data might also have revealed the heavy download traffic much earlier, they note.

"If you see a sudden increase in requests for access to systems that an employee hasn’t needed before, take notice," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, an IT consultancy. (See 10 Signs an Employee Is About to Go Bad.)

Min faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, a fine of up to $250,000, and restitution.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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