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Preatoni breaks silence over Telecom Italia spying probe

'Nobody will ever be able to picture it completely right'

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High profile security industry personality Roberto Preatoni has spoken for the first time about his arrest by Italian police investigating an ongoing spying scandal involving Telecom Italia.

Preatoni, founder of controversial security start-up WabiSabiLabi and defacement archive Zone-H, was arrested last November on suspicion of computer hacking and wiretapping. He was held for questioning by the Italian police for some days before a petition to the Court of Freedom secured his release.

Preatoni's arrest relates to his times as a penetration tester before his involvement with WabiSabiLabi. A team of security consultants ostensibly hired to test the security of Telecom Italia's security systems allegedly used Trojan horse malware and illegal wiretap techniques to spy on targets including Carla Cico, chief exec of Brasil Telecom, the Kroll investigative agency, and journalists Fausto Carioti and David Giacalone of Italian newspaper Libero.

The scandal has been front page news in Italy for many months. In January 2007, four people were charged with spying in connection with the affair including Fabio Ghioni, vice president and security CTO at Telecom Italia, and Giuliano Tavaroli, the telco's former head of security. The charges follow the September 2006 arrest of the Telecom Italia pair over alleged abuse of wiretaps.

Preatoni writes, in a letter to the community on the WabiSabiLabi blog, that the affair is probably far more complex than anyone imagines.

The case for which I was arrested it's actually a huge case and believe me, no single news agency was able to picture it completely right. Probably, nobody will ever be able to picture it completely right as it's a case involving a hundred of arrested people, the Italian Secret Services, the US Secret Services, some Italian corrupted police and financial police officers, some Italian and US investigation companies, a multi-billionaire struggle between Telecom Italia and Brasil Telecom, an extraordinary rendition (kidnapping) of a presumed Islamic terrorist, and last but not least, the suicide (but many say murder) of a Telecom Italia Security top manager. Aside this, the various attempts of the Italian government to take over the control of the Italian main telecommunication carrier.

The undoubted ordeal has failed to knock Preatoni's sense of humour. "At least, next time I'll meet Kevin Mitnick at TJI Friday's I'll have something to say and not only to ask," he writes.

WabiSabiLabi launched a security vulnerability auction site a year ago. In the time since his arrest Preatoni has been forced to consider whether his continued involvement in the project is of mutual benefit.

Preatoni writes: "The questions I kept asking myself in the last months were: What will happen to WSL [WabiSabiLabi] if I will stay? Will my private life and troubles effect negatively the project? Should I keep representing publicly the project?"

After an extended period of soul searching Preatoni has decided to stay with WabiSabiLabi, confirming plans to represent the firm at a security conference in South Africa next month.

Preatoni cut a colourful figure in the sometimes staid world of information security, which in recent years has become more dominated by men in suits spouting meaningless marketing platitudes. As well as founding several edgy security start-ups, he lectured at University of Urbino and co-wrote editions of the hacker comic Hero-Z. He is a regular on the security conference circuit and noted as a strong defender of civil liberties in the post 9/11 world. ®

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