Michael Leeper allegedly hacked into Columbia’s private computer network and had unauthorized access to company and employee information for more than two years before the company became aware of the breach last year. Leeper worked during this time as chief technology officer of Denali Advanced Integration, but before that, he worked for more than a decade as a “high-level” IT employee of Columbia.
Since its March filing of a lawsuit in Oregon federal court against Denali and Leeper, Columbia has decided to settle its case against the latter.
In his only response to Columbia’ allegations, Leeper denied them entirely and claimed that the company “was aware of and authorized some or all” of the conduct he’s accused of, and “acquiesced” by its lack of action.
While the company did not elaborate on the settlement, it said claims of computer fraud, wiretapping and conversion against Denali “will continue.”
In its complaint, Columbia said Leeper “secretly created” a “backdoor” network account under a false name that allowed him to continue nearly unlimited access to the company’s system and internal e-mails, but admitted that when he accessed employee e-mails over the next 30 months “it was at least in part on Denali’s behalf and for its benefit.”
“The computer forensic evidence that Columbia has obtained to date demonstrates that Leeper hacked into Columbia’s private computer network at least in part to attempt to obtain an unfair commercial advantage for Denali over its competitors for Columbia’s business,” the company said at the time.
Columbia pointed to the e-mails of IT employees that Leeper allegedly accessed, and noted that these employees are “responsible for aspects of Columbia’s IT procurement,” including computer hardware and software, which Denali sells.
“During the period in which he was unlawfully hacking into their e-mail accounts, Leeper would occasionally contact one of the two employees and discuss ways in which Denali could potentially expand its business with Columbia,” the company said.
Columbia added that certain accessed e-mails also discussed IT budgeting and planning and even exchanges with Denali competitors.
But Leeper also allegedly hacked into the e-mail accounts of several other employees, including a number of “high-level” Columbia executives, and accessed “highly confidential business communications,” according to the company.
Denali, for its part has argued that Columbia “had and still has no evidence to support ts aggressive allegations,” in a July push for dismissal of the case.
“While there is some evidence that Leeper had certain Columbia information on a personal laptop that he acquired before starting his employment at Denali, there is no evidence that he committed any hacking at Denali’s direction, request or encouragement, nor that he passed on any confidential Columbia information to Denali so that Denali could obtain an unfair commercial advantage with Columbia or competitors of Denali,” the company said.
The motion for dismissal of Columbia’s remaining claims is pending.
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