Originally created 09/18/00

Computer disappears during conference



IRVINE, Calif. (AP) - A computer belonging to the founder and chairman of a top telecommunications company was believed to have been stolen from a hotel conference room where he had been speaking to journalists.

The portable computer apparently contained valuable company secrets involving Qualcomm Inc., which designs and produces chips for wireless communications devices and holds hundreds of patents. Qualcomm CEO and founder Irwin Jacobs told some journalists attending the meeting that some of that information could be valuable to foreign governments.

Jacobs left the laptop unattended on a podium at the Hyatt Regency-Irvine ballroom for 15 to 20 minutes Saturday after addressing the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He was speaking with a small group about 30 feet away when it disappeared.

"We took it as a straight laptop theft, which is pretty typical for a hotel," Irvine Police Sgt. Tim Smith said.

Qualcomm spokeswoman Christine Trimble wouldn't discuss details Sunday except to confirm that the laptop was used by Jacobs for "business purposes." Company officials would not say whether Jacobs had contacted the FBI.

Qualcomm is the world's leading developer of a technology known as CDMA, which seems to have won the global battle to become the standard technology for making high-speed Internet access available on wireless devices.

That sort of technology is expected to connect the Internet to handheld devices, cars and even airplanes in the next few years - initially in the Far East and Europe, markets considered to have a potential value in the tens of billions of dollars.

Trimble said the laptop, valued at about $4,000, was password protected and the data was backed up on a computer at Qualcomm's San Diego headquarters. However, password-protected computers running Windows' operating systems, as Jacobs' was, can easily be broken into.

If security on Jacobs' laptop was limited only to password protection - rather than a more advanced encryption scheme - "it's extremely unlikely that it will take any more than removing the hard drive and hooking it up to another computer to read all the files," said Shawn Abbott, chief technical officer of computer security company Rainbow Technologies.

SABEW President Byron Calame, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, said many people had access to the ballroom on Saturday, including exhibitors and guests at the conference and hotel staff.

More than 100 reporters and editors from across the nation attended SABEW's 4th annual technology conference, a two-day event that ended Sunday.