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Freightways warns of spies

By Nick Stride

Friday 5th September 2003

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"Dumpster diving" is a growth activity, according to Freightways' document destruction arm, but security consultants aren't so sure.

In the prospectus for its share issue Freightways cites "increased occurrence of industrial espionage" as one reason for growth in the document destruction business operated by Online Security Services.

Online general manager Stewart Maclaren said there was only anecdotal evidence of the growth of "dumpster diving" ­ imported US slang for the practice of going through companies' and others' rubbish.

However, a number of clients had reported going into work on a Saturday to find someone rummaging through their rubbish bins.

"We've had instances where our security guards have been approached and offered $500 cash if they unlock the bin they're carrying," Mr Maclaren said.

"Of course that could be the customer checking to see how secure we are."

Wellington investigator and security consultant Trevor Morley said he doubted there was any rise in the incidence of industrial espionage.

"I would say there has been a rise in the awareness of prudent business people of the need to keep their secrets secret, and that has driven the increase in business of document destruction services."

Mr Morley said dumpster-diving had been going on "forever." He cited US magazines that routinely went through Hollywood stars' rubbish, and the conviction for theft of a British private investigator collecting information during the bitter fight between British Airways and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Airlines.

In New Zealand, the Privacy Act and the laws relating to theft haven't been tested under such circumstances but Mr Morley said the British precedent meant it would be a brave man who removed material from others' rubbish.

Internal documents obtained from plastics packaging group Vertex were sent recently to The National Business Review. A subsequent letter from an anonymous party claiming to have gathered the documents said he or she had got them from rubbish bins at various Vertex sites, on behalf of another party interested in making a takeover offer for Vertex.

Mr Maclaren said he wasn't aware of any actual break-ins by people seeking confidential company information.

But many companies still had a "cavalier" attitude to document security.

He cited an exercise by the British magazine Punch some years ago in which its operatives went through banks' garbage and obtained customers' names, account numbers, and balances.

Despite banks' protestations they had fixed any problems, the same exercise six months later produced the same sort of information without difficulty.

Mr Morley said it was demonstrably easy to reassemble documents that had been through a line shredder. He advised companies to use a document destruction company, or at least to invest in a state-of-the-art machine that reduced documents to confetti.

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