Web Firms In Court Over Customer Information

Two Pittsburgh-based Web design firms are locked in a bitter legal dispute
over customer information.

Citing federal wiretap law, a Pennsylvania district judge last week
ordered Sladekutter Ltd. to stop hacking into the computer systems of its competitor Labwerks Inc.

The judge’s temporary restraining order also ordered Sladekutter to return the e-mails and other files that it obtained during a Nov. 13, 1998 break-in.

“This was corporate espionage by a competitor aimed at putting us out of
business,” said John Kuntz, Labwerks president and chief executive officer.

Included in the information stolen during the break-in, according to Kuntz, were work orders and network access information from clients at large international corporations.

The conflict centers around Daniel Dehner, a former Sladekutter employee
who is now chief technical officer for Labwerks. At one point, Dehner was
doing work for both design firms and would occasionally use Sladekutter’s
systems to access Labwerks’ computers in order to complete projects.

According to Kuntz of Labwerks, in mid-November someone from Sladekutter
systemically tried more than 50 times to log in to Dehner’s account on Labwerk’s Exchange server.

“They tried many iterations using information from his personnel file until they finally found the letters DAN and the last four digits of his social security number,” he said.

In a court hearing, Sladekutter confessed to the break-in and file theft,
according to Kuntz. But in a statement, Sladekutter officials claim that
their access of Labwerk’s server was for the purpose of retreiving company
property. The company likened the situation to “being called a trespasser
for entering the garage of a neighbor who has taken your lawn mower, only
to get your lawn mower back.”

Sladekutter claims Dehner had signed a non-compete clause when he started
work for Sladekutter, a contract which his work for Labwerks violated. The
company has filed its own civil action against Labwerks and claims it
ultimately will be vindicated.

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