High-Tech Products Invite Tech Crimes

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-10-21 Print this article Print

Chips, on a dollar-per-volume basis, are more valuable than drugs.

Even the six million dollar man was once assigned to track down stolen microchips. Tech theft has been a mainstream topic since the 1970s. But as this month began, almost 300 boxes of chips—fresh from South Korea—were stolen from a warehouse near Londons Heathrow Airport. Reported value, about $5 million; prospects for recovery, negligible.

At least when someone steals a chip, an inventory count tells you that something is wrong—and companies can use physical means, such as "chip cage" enclosures, to separate high-valued office supplies (such as RAM modules or Compact Flash memory cards) from the stationery and ballpoint pens.

Other measures, such as the use of shipping containers and trucks without conspicuous logos or other "valuable stuff inside" indicators, should also be part of a companys portfolio of preventive measures against savvy thieves—who know that chips, on a dollar-per-volume basis, are more valuable than drugs (and that the customers for stolen chips are a nicer class of people).

Dont overlook the opportunities for casual theft at end-user sites. With the generous RAM complements in modern PCs, growing use of multiprocessor machines and RAID storage devices, hardware can be removed from a working machine without completely disabling it.

Hardware manufacturers may carefully track their inventory, but what about devices rejected during testing? If these are diverted and sold, they could fail in operation and create ill will or even liability.

Stolen code is even more slippery. Just this past August, a former employee of a contract software developer in India was caught in an attempted sale of a clients source code. But any given piece of stolen code, unlike a general-purpose chip, is probably useful to only a few potential buyers—and when the thief in this case started trolling for a buyer, FBI and Indian counterpart CBI officials arranged a sting operation (much like a "Mission: Impossible" script, speaking of late-20th-century TV). Next time, a code thief may use a "BlackNet" brokerage (as envisioned in the widely circulated essay by Timothy May) to avoid such traps.

Technology is on the side of the bad guys. Care in choosing the people you hire is the only protection that endures.

Tell me how you keep technology on ice at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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