The private investigation company used spyware to steal information
from Israeli firms.
Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global
network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have warned
businesses to be on their guard against agencies who offer them
information on their competitors, following the jailing of a team
of private investigators who used spyware to steal information on
behalf of legitimate companies.
According to media
reports, four members of the Israeli Modi'in Ezrahi private
investigation firm have been sentenced after they were found guilty
of using a Trojan horse to steal commercial information.
The Trojan horse was said to have been used by a number of
different private investigation firms 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.
Asaf Zlotovsky, a manager at the Modi'in Ezrahi detective firm,
was given a 19 month jail sentence. Two other employees, Haim
Zissman and Ron Barhoum, were sent to prison for 18 and nine months
respectively. The firm's former CEO, Yitzhak Rett, escaped a jail
sentence after admitting the allegations under a plea bargain - he
has been fined 250,000 Israeli Shekels (US $72,000) and will face
10 months on parole.
"It's understandable that firms would want information on what
their business rivals are planning to do, and try to seek a
competitive advantage over them. What isn't acceptable is to hire
firms that will use illegal methods, such as computer spyware, to
gather that information," said Graham Cluley, senior
technology consultant at Sophos. "Firms need to be very careful
about the third parties they hire to help them grow their business,
and seek assurances that their partners will not be behaving
unethically or illegally. If they do not, the consequences could
not only be a swathe of bad publicity but also a spell in
London-based Michael Haephrati, who honed his computer skills
during three years' military service in the Israeli army, developed
the spyware Trojan horse, while his wife, Ruth, marketed it to
several private investigation firms who bought the code and
installed it onto the computers of its clients' rivals. The
Haephratis were fined and
sentenced to jail by an Israeli court for their involvement in
the case in 2006.
"Regular cybercriminals may be attempting to steal your
employees' credit card details, but spyware can also be used for
corporate espionage designed to steal your business plans and
customer databases," explained Cluley. "Firms should be on their
guard and have proper defenses in place to avoid falling foul of
this kind of attack."
Sophos recommends all computer users protect themselves with a
consolidated solution which can control network access
and defend against the threats of spam, hackers, spyware and