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A top manager at a US software developer has avoided jail after pleading guilty to lifting password-protected files from the website of a business rival.

Jay E. Leonard, 61, was sentenced to 12 months on probation and a fine of $2,500 after he confessed to misdemeanor hacking charges as part of a plea-bargaining agreement, according to local news reports. Leonard is president of Platte River Associates, which develops specialist software that's used in petroleum exploration.

Platte River's main competitor is this niche is Zetaware. Leonard attempted to gain an unfair advantage of his competitor by sneaking into a password-protected area of Zetaware's website and lifting sensitive files. In a plea bargaining agreement, Leonard admitted taking the files and discussing their possible use in Platte River's software development plans at a staff meeting around a week later.

Word of these dodgy moves leaked back to Zetaware chief exec, Zhiyong He, who called in the feds. The cause of the security breach is unclear but Zhiyong suspects that Leonard may have somehow got his hands on a password. Leonard attempted to hide his tracks by accessing Zetaware's site from a wireless hotspot at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport, close to Zetaware headquarters and a long way from Platte's base in Colorado.

In a separate action, Platte River faces a civil suit over allegations it supplied its drilling software technology to Cuba, in violation of a long-standing US trade embargo. ®

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