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A security gaffe by Gateway 2000 has resulted in the exposure of sensitive customer information on the PC vendor's web site.

Up until late this afternoon searching for 'delivery cost' (hardly the strangest request) on Gateway's UK site returned two copies of an Excel spreadsheet containing order details, customer contacts and phone numbers.

The spreadsheet didn't contain credit card details but had enough information, including the phone number of customer's banks, for con men to pose as Gateway reps or any number of frauds. (We're not devious enough to devise any specific ones just now).

The Excel file contained the details of 449 Gateway customers almost all of which seemed to be from The Netherlands.

We contacted Gateway, and after spending five minutes listening to a recorded message (ironically) "reminding" us the services that we could obtain from Gateway's Web site, we were eventually put through to a rep.

He assured us the problem, which was said to be down to a mistake made by Gateway's "development people", would be quickly resolved.

By late this afternoon a representative of the firm was able to confirm that the spreadsheet was no longer accessible. It appears Gateway's techies have disabled the search function on the site while they're fixing the problem, but without speaking to someone technically competent we can't be certain on this.

We're still waiting for comment of how this privacy cock-up could have happened in the first place.

Meanwhile over at Dell's shipping partner Walsh Western International things are hardly much better on the web security front. The firm claims to use the latest database and communications technology but its customer details are vulnerable to form data substitution attacks due to sloppy application development.

We spoke to security experts at MIS Corporate Defence and Information Risk Management and both expressed reservations about the security of the site. They both said that Walsh Western should be storing customer information on a secure database.

Good advice that we hope they'll heed. ®

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