Staples files lawsuit against Web hacker

Staples, a US office-supply retailer, has filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Boston against an unknown hacker dubbed "John Doe," who allegedly broke into a company server and posted advertisements for competitor Office Depot.

The suit alleges that the hacker damaged the company by stealing its e-commerce business.

Staples, which operates 1000 office superstores, did $US7 billion in sales last year. The company, which launched its Staples.com Web site last year, just announced third-quarter Internet sales revenue of $24 million.

Staples spokeswoman Debby Hohler said the alteration to its Web site occurred sometime during the early morning hours of October 9, despite security procedures in place to prevent such an occurrence. In fact, she said, it was those security measures that alerted the company to the break-in. The company has now added more security measures, she said.

Although Hohler said the alteration didn't affect a consumer's e-commerce shopping experience - or allow anyone illegal access to consumer credit-card numbers - she acknowledged that, for about an hour, some shoppers may have clicked onto Office Depot products and been linked to that company's home page.

"Someone came onto our site through the advertising server and posted ads for Office Depot," Hohler said. "But we don't think our competitor had anything to do with it. We think it was more of a prank."

Gary Schweikhart, vice president for public affairs at Office Depot in Delray, said his company had nothing to do with the alteration and is as outraged as Staples at what happened.

"We're not that dumb to be involved," Schweikhart said. "We don't condone this type of action. Staples is a good company and a tough competitor and we wish them a lot of luck in finding this person."

Hohler said Staples has some idea of who the hacker is and filed the lawsuit in order to collect additional information, identify and report him to federal authorities. Unauthorized access to a computer is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

"This is a crime and we are taking it very seriously," Hohler said.

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