Tech Valley hacking case becomes personal
ALBANY, Nov 08, 2012 (Times Union - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A phone hacking case that victimized dozens of Capital Region businesses has turned into a name-calling spat.
The case dates back to January when business customers of Tech Valley Communications in Albany -- in addition to others who were not customers -- learned that someone from the outside had racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges through their phone systems.
Thousands of calls -- many of them placed to countries such as Somalia and the Philippines -- were routed through Tech Valley's network in what appears to have been part of a sophisticated criminal scheme automated by computer algorithms.
In lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Albany in September against the owners of three local businesses, Tech Valley sought payment for the calls, arguing that it was the responsibility of the businesses to safeguard their phone systems from hacking through passwords and other measures.
But while the dispute made its way into court, behind the scenes it became a nasty finger-pointing contest that led Tech Valley's attorney to seek a court order against two of the defendants -- Best Cleaners and a Colonie company called American Energy Care -- barring them from speaking to the press or making statements about the case on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Court filings also reveal for the first time that the State Police's computer crime unit has been involved and that a letter signed by 37 local executives circulated through the business community that alleged that Tech Valley may be guilty of "gross negligence and reckless disregard."
Tech Valley CEO Kevin O'Connor stated in an affidavit filed in court that the intent of the letter was to "intimidate, harass, and coerce (Tech Valley) into abandoning its collection efforts..."
Tech Valley has argued that its system has never been hacked, that the alleged hackers tapped into the phone systems of the businesses directly, and that the calls were illegally routed onto the Tech Valley system.
"As a result of the distribution and publication of this false communication, (Tech Valley) may be faced with damages due to customer ill will, loss of business reputation, and loss of revenues and profits," O'Connor stated in the affidavit.
In his own affidavit, Jamie Thompson of American Energy Care said that his company, which is a Tech Valley customer, had adequate security measures in place when the calls were made -- a total of 94,000 minutes over four days that cost $200,000.
Thompson also claims that other phone carriers would have blocked strange international calls from a customer within "a few thousand dollars accumulating."
"Some business leaders suggested immediately canceling their service with (Tech Valley), and were prepared to do so en masse," Thompson stated.
In an affidavit filed in the case, Catherine McCann, who owns Best Cleaners with her husband, Timothy McCann, said they were told that the hacking involved 20 Tech Valley customers and six other companies. Best Cleaners, which was hit with a $146,000 bill, is part of that second group that are not Tech Valley customers.
Robert Lippman, a Saratoga Springs attorney who represents Best Cleaners and American Energy Care, declined to comment on the case, as did Kevin O'Connor, the CEO of Tech Valley.
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