Thursday, April 23, 2009

WorldView - Eavesdropping Concerns in Malta

Even in the tiny country of Malta electronic espionage is taken seriously by business.

"A simple covert listening device costing the perpetrator a measly €200, may end up costing the victim millions of euro in stolen information."
Alberta Director Duncan Barbaro Sant speaks to David Darmanin on the incidence of espionage and how it may be counteracted.

Q. Do you believe there is a high incidence of commercial espionage in Malta? Is there any incidence at all?

A. In today’s highly competitive market, commercial espionage is thriving. Individuals and organisations are now turning to the theft of information as a way of gaining a competitive edge. Radio Frequency Bugs can be concealed in almost anything that can be found in the office, home or car. They can be the ultimate infiltration tool to competitors, discontented or disloyal employees, business partners or private investigators. Typically, low paid employees such as cleaners, service providers or security personnel are entrusted with planting the devices in exchange for gratuities.

Q. Have you been informed or found cases
of political or diplomatic espionage in Malta? If so, without the need of mentioning names, can you elaborate on details of how this was done?

A. It is a known fact that Malta hosts several VIPs in Malta. These persons can easily be targeted especially when staying in hotels since access to hotel rooms is a minor inconvenience for the spy who is about to plant eavesdropping devices in the actual room or even one of the adjacent rooms. Just over a month ago a service was carried out for a VIP client who chose to rent out a villa rather than stay in a hotel. The company who the VIP works for lost over €15 million last year after a technology that was developed over several years was lost to their competitors by means of an eavesdropping device. Now th
ey take no chances.

Q. What other reasons could there be for espionage to be done in Malta?

A. With the increasing number of pharmaceutical companies setting up plants here in Malta, as well as online gaming companies, these all have a direct interest in protecting their data. In the case of gaming companies, the infiltration of bugging devices in their computer systems is an obvious danger, especially since they would hold credit card details of thousands of customers. For pharmaceutical companies, with research and development in this field being so cut-throat, any lost data can mean a competitor gaining the multi-million licence for a product costing years and possibly millions in medical research.

Q. Are VIPs visiting the country exposed to the risk of having paparazzi install covert cameras or bugs?

A. As regards covert cameras, these may be installed in all sorts of places, clocks, AC vents, behind mirrors and so on. It is estimated that over US$800 million of spy equipment per year is sold within and outside the US, a concern for all businesses around the world. Such devices are not always installed to gather intelligence from competitors; their use varies from collecting data for bribery, spying on colleagues when competing
for promotions, collecting evidence for separation cases and so on.

Q. How easy is it to intrude on people’s conversations or information? What devices are used? Where are they obtained from? Is it expensive to bug an edifice or a telephone?

A. Bugs come in various forms – some as innocent-looking as a pen or calculator left on someone’s desk containing an active microphone, the only drawback being that a battery will only last so long. However, one can easily buy a multiple plug with an active microphone over the internet for as little as €200. Once plugged in, it is automatically powered up and enables the perpetrator to listen in to all conversations.

Furthermore, it is also customary for people to discuss confidential matters while travelling in a vehicle, be it with another passenger or on a mobile phone. These devices may relay information on where or who is travelling in the car or being met, thu
s posing personal security threats as well as information or commercial losses. (more)

Interestingly, the subject of business espionage is not new in Malta, as this book, published in Malta, reveals...
By Louis Moreau
Gozo Press, 1977