Alleged hacker is Microsoft employee

Monday, July 12th 2004, 12:39 pm
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ A man accused of hacking into search engine company Alta Vista's computer systems about two years ago now works at Microsoft Corp., the company said Friday.

Laurent Chavet, 29, was arrested by FBI agents a week ago in Redmond, Wash., acting on a warrant issued in San Francisco. The U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of California alleges that Chavet hacked into Alta Vista's computer system to obtain software blueprints called source code and recklessly caused damage to Alta Vista's computers.

Microsoft spokeswoman Tami Begasse said Friday that Chavet, who lives in suburban Kirkland, is an employee of Microsoft. She declined to comment further on Chavet, citing a company policy not to discuss personnel matters.

But in general, she said: ``We're confident in our policies and procedures we have in place to protect our code and to ensure that employees do not bring third party code into the work place.''

A woman who answered the phone at Chavet's house Friday said he would have no comment.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, citing anonymous sources, reported for Friday editions that Chavet had been working on Microsoft's MSN Search effort.

In a research paper on search technology published in IBM Systems Journal, Chavet is listed as a search expert who works at Microsoft and was previously with Alta Vista.

In 2003, AltaVista was acquired by search company Overture Services, Inc., which in turn was acquired by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo Inc. later that year. Microsoft's MSN Web site currently uses both Overture's and Yahoo's search technology.

But the Redmond company has begun an aggressive effort to develop its own search technology as it tries to compete with search engine leaders Google Inc. and Yahoo. Microsoft, which has acknowledged it lags in search, hopes to play catch-up with a broad-based search tool that allows users to also scour through e-mails, documents and even big databases.

Court documents say Chavet worked at Alta Vista from approximately June of 1999 to February of 2002. Beginning in late March of 2002, the U.S. attorney's office alleges in the court documents, Chavet began accessing Alta Vista's computers without permission, causing about $5,000 in damage over a one-year period.

A spokeswoman for Overture declined to comment on Chavet's case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Sonderby, who is in charge of the California unit that is prosecuting the case, told The Associated Press that the allegations against Chavet ``do not pertain to Microsoft.''

Chavet was released on a $10,000 bond and is expected to make a court appearance July 20 in San Francisco. Both charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.