BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 10:32 GMT
Tech salesman foils espionage plan
Holding a CD, BBC
Offer to sell entire customer database for $20,000
With concern over industrial espionage growing in the US, BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield reports on the British salesman who joined forces with the FBI in a sting operation.

When British citizen Andy Parsons set out for Georgia in the US to head up software developers Vector Networks' sales team, he did have adventure on his mind.

But the idea that the information technology salesman would end up in a hotel room as part of an FBI sting was not high on his list of things to do.

Andy Parsons, BBC
Andy Parson didn't expect to turn detective
"I watched a lot of movies but I never thought I'd get involved," he admits.

Yet that is exactly what happened. Back in January, an employee of a rival company phoned Mr Parsons and offered him the firm's entire customer database for $20,000.

With true Brit grit and honesty, he immediately informed the rival firm's chief executive.

Hotel sting

The company, fed up with employee disloyalty and with a criminal case already pending in Florida, decided enough was enough and contacted the FBI.

Mr Parsons was drafted in to a sting operation as an undercover agent. With a wiretap on his phone and a wish list of questions to ask the offender, he set up a meeting with the man.


As the door closed the FBI agent jumped out of the chair and the door came open. I thought the guy was coming back to shoot us

Andy Parson
"The FBI rented and paid for two hotel rooms. The one they were in was full of monitors and recording equipment and there were about 12 FBI agents all around the hotel," says Mr Parsons.

"I never really felt scared and the FBI made me feel very secure. I was just concentrating on making sure I didn't blow it," he says.

"After we checked the disk on the laptop I got them to talk about the files until the FBI agent with me gave the code words - 'I'm satisfied'.

"As the door closed the FBI agent jumped out of the chair and the door came open. I thought the guy was coming back to shoot us."

Growing problem

But the culprit was firmly in the arms of the law and is now on bail awaiting trial.


The FBI told me that this kind of thing is becoming increasingly prevalent but that firms aren't normally keen to get involved

Andy Parsons
In the US, employees stealing data and information is a serious problem. Typically the motive is money, says Tom Waters of the Phoenix Consulting Group, but not always.

"Often people are driven by revenge," he says.

Dissatisfaction with promotion opportunities, working conditions and conflict with managers are just some of the reasons that could drive a seemingly loyal employee to betray their company.

The fact that computers are networked together with central databases of information makes industrial espionage a whole lot easier, says Mr Waters.

"It is far simpler and to a great extent is anonymous," he says.

A survey conducted by the US Computer Security Institute and the FBI found that 85% of US firms had experienced computer intrusions, with 64% serious enough to cause financial losses.

The price of sharing secrets is estimated to cost firms in the US around $378m a year.

Mr Parsons is pleased to have played a small role in helping eliminate such expensive betrayals.

"The FBI told me that this kind of thing is becoming increasingly prevalent but that firms aren't normally keen to get involved," he said.

"I believe you have to stand up to this sort of thing and if fewer people turned away we could have a much better society."

See also:

06 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Bugging your keyboard
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories