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Microsoft stands by arrested hacker

Security expert in Italian spying scandal

Microsoft's security team took a bit of a chance a few weeks ago, when it invited Roberto Preatoni to give a talk at its Redmond campus.

Preatoni is the founder of Wabisabilabi, a Switzerland-based company that bills itself as an auction site for the software bugs that companies such as Microsoft never want anybody to see. He spoke at Microsoft in late September as an invited guest at Microsoft's semi-annual Blue Hat security conference.

But what had been an edgy invite by Microsoft's Blue Hat planners took on a new dimension this week, when Preatoni was arrested in Milan on charges relating to a national spying scandal at Telecom Italia, Italy's largest telephone carrier.

Preatoni's company confirmed his arrest in a statement, saying that his work for Telecom Italia was unrelated to Wabisabilabi (the incidents at Telecom Italia took place before Wabisabilabi was founded) and that the company was "confident that his innocence will be established if a case ever comes to court".

The charismatic Preatoni was a popular speaker at security conferences but his company's controversial business model raised some eyebrows.

So was it a miscalculation to invite him to Blue Hat? Not at all, said George Stathakopoulos, general manager of Microsoft’s Response and Product Centers. "Look, if you think of Blue Hat as being [for] someone who comes to work with us, that's a mistake," he said. "We brought HD Moore in."

Moore, no fan of Microsoft, is the is the author of the open-source Metasploit hacking tool and he has written code that exploits dozens, if not hundreds, of critical vulnerabilities in Microsoft's products.

According to Stathakopoulos, the whole point of the Blue Hat conference is to bring in new voices that will challenge Microsoft developers.

"If you bring this guy in and he talks to your development force, he says I am buying vulnerabilities against your products and they have value. Make your products better because I am your enemy," he said. "So the fact that he got arrested, I’m not happy about it because I thought he was a good guy. But what do I know?"

But not everybody reacted positively to Preatoni's talk. "Some people say god I hate this guy; people say 'why did you bring him over here?'" Stathakopoulos said. "But when people internalise it and step back and they think about it a little they think, 'I've got a lot of work to do’."

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