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Exclusive: HP's printer team in espionage drama

Spies seek ink secrets

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Hewlett-Packard's top secret printer labs are under attack from an audacious rival using the art of deception to gather confidential information.

A group of engineers working on HP's next-generation network laser printer have come under siege from a competitor, The Register has learned. Employees have received calls at work and at home from faux members of the HP team, asking for details on a new 9500 series printer code-named Nozomi. HP has fingered the culprit, we are told, although the company's identity cannot be released at this time.

The calls started to come into HP's Boise, Idaho labs close to one month ago. The spies would pretend to be supervisors from another part of HP. They would grill engineers about toner cartridges and Nozomi's design. Some workers were also called at home with the spy pretending to take a survey about technology and, yes, toner cartridges.

"They know the projects people are working on and where they live," a source said. "They pretend to be someone from another office and ask various questions. They're very smooth in their delivery."

An HP spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

HP suspects that a competitor has backed the espionage campaign with close to $1 million in funding. An HP executive flew to Boise to instruct employees on what to do when the enemy (or the press) calls. Placards with directions have been placed throughout the well-guarded labs.

HP has a number of fierce competitors in the printer space, including Lexmark, Canon, Epson. and new rival Dell.

Corporate espionage is a somewhat common practice in the IT industry. Oracle admitted to keeping an eye on Microsoft by hiring a lobby group, IGI, to buy garbage from pro-Microsoft lobbyists.

One of HP's competitors appears to have taken a similar course. HP dominates the printer market and makes a killing in the process, so it stands to reason that rivals want to be in the know. In its last quarter, HP's printing and imaging business generated $918 million in profits. ®

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