Former engineer who sued Cisco now faces criminal charges

After suing Cisco for access to its SMARTnet service Peter Alfred-Adekeye faces extradition to the US on hacking charges

A one-time Cisco engineer who had sued his former employer, alleging it monopolized the business of servicing and maintaining Cisco equipment, has been charged by U.S. authorities with hacking.

Peter Alfred-Adekeye, who left Cisco in 2005 to form two networking support companies, has been charged with 97 counts of intentionally accessing a protected computer system without authorization for the purposes of commercial advantage, according to an arrest warrant. He faces 10 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine if convicted on the charges.

Alfred-Adekeye was abruptly arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Vancouver on May 20, 2010, while giving a deposition to Cisco attorneys in his civil case. A Nigerian citizen and a resident of Zurich, Alfred-Adekeye was only in town for a few days for the deposition, but the U.S. Department of Justice tipped off Canadian authorities, telling them to look for him at Vancouver's Wedgewood Hotel.

The U.S. Department of Justice accused Alfred-Adekeye of using a Cisco employee's user ID and password to download software and access Cisco's restricted website, according to the Canadian arrest warrant issued in the case.

The case is still under seal as U.S. authorities try to extradite Alfred-Adekeye. His arrest had gone unreported until this week, when Vancouver media reported his extradition hearing. Alfred-Adekeye's U.S. arrest warrant was issued May 19, 2010 -- the day after he began his deposition in Canada -- by U.S. Magistrate Judge Howard Loyd in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, according to the Canadian warrant.

The dapper Alfred-Adekeye has founded two nonprofit efforts aimed at fostering entrepreneurship -- Road to Entrepreneurial Leadership and The African Network -- and he's also the head of two startups. On one of his Web sites he describes himself as, "a successful British entrepreneur and innovator of royal African descent."

One of Alfred-Adekeye's companies, Multiven, sued Cisco in December 2008, accusing the company of monopolizing the business of servicing and maintaining Cisco enterprise equipment. Cisco forced owners of gear such as routers, switches and firewalls to buy its SMARTnet service contracts in order to get regular software updates and bug fixes, Multiven said. By providing updates and bug fixes only to SMARTnet customers and not to third parties, Cisco prevented independent companies from servicing its equipment, Multiven alleged.

The SMARTnet service is a hot-button issue with some customers, who feel that Cisco should provide basic bug fixes and software updates free of charge as Microsoft or Apple do.

Neither Alfred-Adekeye nor Multiven could immediately be reached for comment Tuesday, but according to the Vancouver Sun, his attorney claimed in court Monday that Cisco and the U.S. Department of justice colluded to arrest him during his deposition.

In an e-mail, a Cisco spokeswoman said Tuesday, "We strongly disagree with the majority of the content in [the Vancouver Sun] article," adding that "the extradition is a matter between the two governments."

After Multiven sued Cisco, the networking giant filed countersuits against Multiven, Alfred-Adekeye, and Pingsta, another company founded by Alfred-Adekeye. Multiven provides service and support for networking gear from multiple vendors. Pingsta advertises itself as an online platform for companies to hire engineers and buy cloud-based network expertise on a pay-per-use basis.

The companies settled their civil lawsuits in July 2010, a few months after Alfred-Adekeye's arrest. Both sides dropped their claims and the companies paid their own legal costs.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Tags legalNetworkingservicesCisco SystemsCriminalCivil lawsuitsMultiven

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