Cases remain hidden

The Katia case, and many others like it, was never made public, obviously so that the victims would not lose face. Still, it shows that what used to be healthy competition is being replaced by a business war. Corporate ethics are fading and the way is now open for more sinister methods aimed at huge profits. According to ELAS, officials and electronic security experts, hacking between rival firms is becoming more and more common. On the front line of the business war are shipping, pharmaceutical and healthcare firms, followed by food manufacturers and banks. «It is quite usual for one firm’s invoices or business policy to be leaked. A lot happens in the shipping industry, that is why the security programs sold to them are particularly popular, due to the speed of information when deals are made and fees are leaked,» said Giorgos Romanos, head of a private firm specializing in security networks. The recent bankruptcy of a Piraeus-based shipping firm specializing in leasing ships confirms his statement. The case was so serious that Greek police officers went to Europol headquarters to brief officials there. One of the main culprits in that case was a 26-year-old Ukrainian staff member who turned out to be a mole who had been paid 150,000 euros for his services. He made spy-ware that he installed in the CEO’s laptop and was able to log onto his messages and conversations, forwarding any sensitive information to a rival firm in the former Soviet Union. Before his activities were discovered, the foreign firm learnt every detail about the company’s quotes for cargo transport and was able to offer competitive prices. It took just four months for the Greek firm to go bankrupt. ELAS investigated and when they went to arrest the Ukrainian, identifying themselves as «cyber-crime» police, he broke his laptop by smashing it on his knees. The hard drive containing the incriminating material was found, however, the man was charged with the crime of stealing private information and is to face trial. Both police and private security firm staff agree that most cases of industrial espionage are not made public because of the firms’ need to avoid the negative publicity that would result from the news that their infrastructure was vulnerable to attack. ELAS officers also say the culprits go unpunished and that even if cyber-crime is reported, the police cannot intervene since stealing private information is not cause for lifting confidentiality. «The businesses concerned would have to press charges in order for police to take action. That rarely happens because of the fear of bad publicity,» said an ELAS official. In 2005, a Kolonaki-based firm’s owners hacked into the system of a German pharmaceutical giant by sending spy-ware by e-mail. They then stole contracts the German firm had concluded with the Greek state that detailed prices and types of medications being supplied to Greek state hospitals, enabling them to undercut the offers. Despite repeated instances of industrial espionage, experts say that in Greece the problem has not become as a great as in Western Europe. «We are still a long way behind the rest of Europe, particularly Germany, the crucible of industrial espionage,» said Romanos. He claims that electronic threats in Greece are more serious than conventional threats, mainly because they are so hard to trace. «There are hackers in all sectors,» he said. «It is a known fact that major Greek banks have lost huge sums and crucial ministries have been the victims of hacking into their telephone centers, resulting in huge financial losses,» he said. In another case, a well-known food-manufacturing chain in Greece was astounded to see a rival firm launch a new product on the market which it had been preparing to launch itself. The firm had prepared a patent in which it had invested a great deal of time and money. Ten days before it was due for release on the market, its rival beat it to the post. It was later revealed that the secret had been leaked by a staff member who had installed spy-ware in the firm’s software network. The information had been sent to the mother company in the USA and from there to its subsidiary in Greece. The hacker was identified, but the case never reached the courts, as the owner wanted to avoid publicity. «Where there is security, there is espionage. If you hire someone to provide security, that person has the technology to spy on you,» said a Greek hacker now working for a cyber-security firm.