RealTime IT News

HP Board to Meet as Leak Scandal Widens

UPDATED:Hewlett-Packard's board of directors planned to meet Sunday to address the widening scandal over a press leak probe involving phone records of reporters obtained through "pre-texting."

The latest development comes just a day after a reeling HP  confirmed that it may have illegally obtained the phone records of nine journalists after hiring investigators to help them find the source of press leaks. The Attorney General of California is also investigating.

The private eyes apparently impersonated HP board members in order to get phone companies to turn over detailed records of journalists' phone calls. Another board member was also targeted by the effort.

"We are dismayed that the phone records of reporters were accessed without their knowledge," Emma Wischhusen, an HP spokeswoman, told internetnews.com.

Wischhusen confirmed to internetnews.com that board Chairman Patricia Dunn has expressed that she was appalled by the news, but has refused to resign.

After details of board deliberations surrounding the ouster of former CEO Carly Fiorina were leaked to the Wall Street Journal, then leaked to CNET, Dunn ordered the leak probe.

The news comes in the midst of a Silicon Valley soap opera that includes corporate skulduggery, spies and the threat of criminal charges over leaks to journalists and attempts by the board charman to plug those leaks.

Although nine journalists were involved in the leak probe, HP could only confirm the names of those reporters it personally contacted in order to (eventually) apologize: New York Times reporter John Markoff, the Wall Street Journal's Pui-Wing Tam and Dawn Kawamoto and Tom Krazit of CNET, according to the spokesperson.

Another Wall Street Journal reporter, George Anders, was also involved, according to the newspaper.

HP, which earlier this week admitted that private investigators used pretexting to probe boardroom leaks to the media, said it will cooperate "completely and fully" with an inquiry into the affair by California's Attorney General, according to Wischhusen.

In a search warrant, California investigators are asking ISP Cox Communications to turn over documents that could help the state learn the identity of those who accessed the phone records of board member Thomas Perkins, one of the founders of the legendary Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Buyers.

Perkins resigned from the board after raising concerns about the methods to track down who among the board members was leaking information.

Perkins' May resignation followed a dispute with Dunn, who replaced Fiorina as chairman of the board of directors, according to an SEC filing this week.

Dunn told the full board that an internal investigation revealed that fellow board member George Keyworth leaked boardroom discussions to the press. Keyworth admitted he had leaked internal information but refused to resign. He will not stand for re-election, however, at the request of the board.

According to the search warrant by investigators, a Cox IP address was used to establish accounts enabling access to Perkins' phone records. "We believe a crime has been committed," said Tom Dresslar, spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

Dresslar said this is the first time California has investigated a major corporation for possible identity theft charges. Depending on the investigation, HP or another firm could face either misdemeanor or felony charges involving unauthorized use of data, or unauthorized use of personal information.

The investigation is ongoing and "is being pursued aggressively," according to Dresslar.

Beyond that, Dresslar refused to comment on details of the case, including the names of the remaining unidentified journalists whose phone records were retrieved as part of HP's internal investigation.

Under new California legislation awaiting the signature of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, pretexting could be banned.

Under the approved bill, a first-time offense of purchasing or selling information without a customer's consent could mean a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

A two-time offender could face a year in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Cox spokesperson Stephanie Davis said the company would comply fully with any warrant.

AT&T, which is assisting in the investigation, discovered 2,500 accounts with suspicious activity, Walt Sharp, an AT&T spokesperson, told internetnews.com.

While unable to speak specifically about the HP investigation, Sharp said of the pretexting: "it is being done."

The telecom giant recently filed lawsuits in Texas and California against more than two-dozen data brokers who obtain call records by posing as customers.

Sharp said data brokers have turned the tactic into a cottage industry.

In the case of Perkins, AT&T discovered an online account was established Jan. 30 using the board member's phone number and last four digits of his Social Security number, according to the California search warrant.

The account, registered to mike@yahoo.com, was used to obtain Perkins' January phone bill.

Another unauthorized account was created by someone using the redsox9855@yahoo.com account.

A caller was able to convince AT&T Customer Care to create an account giving access to Perkins' January long-distance bill, according to the California warrant.