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06 Mar 2006

Married couple formally charged over spyware Trojan horse

Spyware. Image copyright (c) Sophos
The couple are said to have helped companies spy on their competitors.

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have reminded companies of the importance of properly protecting their networks from spyware following the latest developments in an international corporate espionage investigation. A married couple alleged to have developed a Trojan horse that helped companies spy on their competitors was indicted this weekend in the Tel Aviv District court for a series of computer crimes.

Ruth Brier-Haephrati, 28, and her 44-year-old husband Michael Haephrati, were extradited from London in January, and are said by prosecuting attorney Haim Wismonsky to have confessed to most of the charges against them.

According to the indictment, the couple were managers of the firm Target-Eya. Michael Haephrati developed the spyware Trojan horse, while his wife, Ruth, marketed it to several private investigators who bought the code and installed it onto the computers of its clients' rivals.

"This case sends out a strong message around the world that the menace of spyware is growing, and that companies need to realise that it's not just home users who are at risk. Organized criminals are hell bent on stealing information and making a profit at the expense of big business," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Every company needs multi-layered security in place to best defend against the growing threat of spyware."

Ruth Brier-Haephrati has been formally charged with aggravated fraud, unlawful computer access, virus insertion, installing tapping equipment, invasion of privacy, managing an unlawful database, and conspiracy to commit a crime. Michael Haephrati is charged with lesser offenses of assisting his wife in these activities.

The Trojan horse is said to have been used by private investigators to spy on the Rani Rahav PR agency (whose clients include Israel's second biggest mobile phone operator, Partner Communications), and the HOT cable television group. Another alleged victim was Champion Motors, who import Audi and Volkswagen motor vehicles.

The Haephratis are also accused of spying on the computers of Amnon Jacont and Varda Raziel-Jacont, sections of whose book mysteriously appeared on the internet before it was published. Varda Raziel-Jacont is the father of Michael Haephrati's former wife, Natalia.

Prosecutors have asked the court to keep Ruth Brier-Haephrati and Michael Haephrati in custody until the conclusion of the trial.

Companies are recommended to protect their email with a consolidated solution to thwart the virus, spyware and spam threats and secure their desktops and servers with automatically updated anti-virus protection.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

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