City residents gets four years in prison for cyber-spying

By Erich Wagner

A federal judge sentenced an Alexandria man to four years in prison Friday after he was convicted of illegally accessing a former employer’s computer system over a nine-month period.

Robert Edwin Steele, 38, was convicted in May on 14 counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer. Steele resigned from a government contracting company in December 2010 over a dispute over his compensation, but secretly accessed the firm’s computers while working for a competitor.

According a statement by Zach Terwilliger, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride, between his departure and September 2011 — when FBI agents seized the computer Steele used in the crime — he accessed proprietary information from his former company more than 79,000 times. The access allowed him to undercut the rival company’s bid for a government contract by around $100,000.

Neither company was named in the statement.

In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ordered Steele to undergo two years of probation after prison, imposed a $50,000 fine and ordered him to pay $335,977.68 in restitution to the former employer.

MacBride said in a statement that electronic spying represents “the greatest threat to corporate America.”

“This danger is omnipresent from both external hackers and criminal insiders,” MacBride said. “Today’s sentence should put all on notice that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with our law enforcement partners, is committed to prosecuting these technically complex crimes and will see punishment commensurate with the offense.”

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