Czech firms deploy bugs in struggle for information

Czech firms are increasingly said to be engaging in a bitter struggle for confidential information. Planting bugs in a rival firm's office is reportedly becoming a widespread practice - at least according to the firms who specialize in finding the bugs. But somewhat amazing is the fact that the law does not consider planting bugs in itself to be a criminal offence. It's only against the law if the information is misused. Vaclav Pinkava is an IT manager in Prague.

"Well, I find it interesting in the first place that anyone can say with any certainty how widespread something like this is. I think there has to be a degree of caution about taking that at face value but there also has to be an understanding that a bug is no different than for instance planting a person in another company. When a person leaves one company and goes to another company, is hired ostensibly to work for a company but is actually sent in by another company that constitutes a form of bugging which is actually much more efficient than electronic bugging and you couldn't draft a law that would prohibit that because until the information obtained is misused their existence in itself cannot be considered a problem. So the question is an interesting one but it is hard to answer. "

So what forms of bugging are going on today?

"There are many forms of bugging going on -or potentially going on -for example if somebody is using a laptop computer in their office that is typically equipped with a microphone -as standard - it is possible to implant software which uses that microphone clandestinely and records what is going on in that room without the person being aware of it and for that matter without having to put a bug into the building. It means hacking into the network of that company and once a person is in that company and working for you that is a relatively feasible thing to achieve without hacking in from the outside. Then the information itself could find its way outside on line real time relatively easily without anyone being aware that its happening."

What about these new bugs - are they very hard to detect?

"Well, I think that by definition the ones that are hard to detect haven't been detected... you know this is an open ended question. The technology is very smart and the potential is there . I think that the real question is: is there anything worthwhile about it. I mean companies may think that it is tremendously important to gain information from other companies but the beauty of information is that it is rather like a product. It has a shelf life and it has to be obtained when it is relevant, before it is out of date and it has to be information that you can trust. So for example if a company recognizes that it is being bugged it can feed you bogus information and rather than call in the police or call in somebody to remove the bugs it can say - OK, this room is bugged and all the information we are going to discuss here will be bogus and the competition is welcome to it because it is an information war in that sense. So this can easily backfire. I'm not sure this is a good thing to try and do . If you base your company's operations on information gleaned in this way you don't really have a safe bet that you will do well out of it."