Chi­nese cy­ber pi­rates get drop on fash­ion houses to steal de­signs

The Washington Times Weekly - - WORLD - By John Phillips

ROME — Or­ga­nized teams of Chi­nese hack­ers are break­ing into the com­put­ers of West­ern com­pa­nies to steal fash­ion ideas and coun­ter­feit them be­fore the gen­uine ar­ti­cles can hit the streets, Italy’s do­mes­tic intelligence ser­vice re­ports.

“Pla­toons of sea­soned, un­scrupu­lous cy­ber pi­rates, crack­ers and hack­ers of ev­ery kind [. . . ] make up an ex­po­nen­tially grow­ing and un­stop­pable army,” says a re­port made pub­lic in Gno­sis, a mag­a­zine pub­lished by Italy’s SISDE coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence agency.

As much as 20 per­cent of In­ter­net viruses and “spam” mes­sages that jam e-mails around the world origi- nate in China, the ar­ti­cle claims. It says Chi­nese mob­sters profit most from pornog­ra­phy — in­clud­ing sites that sell videos for pe­dophiles and traf­fic in date-rape drugs, heroin and coun­ter­feit medicines.

A spokesman at the Chi­nese Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton dis­missed the “sen­sa­tional” SISDE re­port as “ir­re­spon­si­ble” and driven by “ul­te­rior mo­tives.”

“The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment ex­presses strong dis­sat­is­fac­tion and firm op­po­si­tion to it,” spokesman Chu Maom­ing said.

Paola Pisa, fash­ion re­porter for the Rome daily Il Mes­sag­gero, said the re­port de­serves close at­ten­tion from top Ital­ian fash­ion houses such as Fendi, Gucci and Prada, whose ac­ces­sory de­signs fre­quently are copied il­lic­itly.

“There al­ready are many copies on the mar­ket all over the streets of Rome, and they of­ten look very good,” she said in an in­ter­view.

“Street sell­ers of­fer what seems like a Gucci purse for 5 euros [$7]. Coun­ter­feit­ing al­ready is an enor­mous prob­lem, and if fash­ion houses’ com­put­ers are now at risk, they must take coun­ter­mea­sures to pro­tect them­selves.”

SISDE’s alarm has been echoed by re­ports from the China desk of Italy’s spe­cial anti-Mafia in­ves­tiga­tive di­rec­torate and pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in the of­fice of the na­tional anti-Mafia pros­e­cu­tor, Judge Pi­etro Grasso, intelligence sources say.

The re­port in the cur­rent edi­tion of Gno­sis — the first to be edited by SISDE’s new di­rec­tor, Franco Gabrielli — is the most de­tailed, de­scrib­ing a “Chi­nese boom” in In­ter­net crime.

“Once upon a time, the Chi­nese came to the West to pho­to­graph the win­dows of shoe stores or fash­ion bou­tiques to copy the prod­ucts. To­day, in­stead, they steal projects di­rectly from the servers of pro­duc­ing firms so that they can put coun­ter­feit prod­ucts on the mar­ket be­fore they are dis­trib­uted com­mer­cially,” it says.

“On the In­ter­net the Chi­nese sell ev­ery­thing, from hu­man or­gans to poi­sonous medicines. They traf­fic in weapons, drugs, gam­bling and so on. [. . . ] Chi­nese cy­berspace is fu­el­ing a mas­sive amount of crim­i­nal busi­ness.”

Miss Pisa, a vet­eran ob­server of the Euro­pean fash­ion world, said she ex­pects the Chi­nese hack­ers would tar­get de­sign­ers from other coun­tries as well as Italy. In her view, fash­ion houses have in­vited crim­i­nals’ at­ten­tion be­cause of high prices for the real ar­ti­cles, plac­ing them out of reach for or­di­nary con­sumers.

“[Louis] Vuit­ton is al­ready the most copied house in the world,” Miss Pisa said. “I would ex­pect the French fash­ion houses in com­pe­ti­tion with our Ital­ian com­pa­nies likely will be tar­geted by the Chi­nese as well.

“Of course Italy needs to take steps to neu­tral­ize the hack­ers. But some of the­com­pa­nieshaveen­cour­aged­copy­ing by charg­ing as much 1,500 euros [$1,800] for a sim­ple bag or a scarf. What is hap­pen­ing is not quite po­etic jus­tice but al­most,” she said.

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