At Apple Computer Proper Office Attire Includes a Muzzle

Big Secrecy Campaign Seeks To Silence Gossips

John Sculley's Jammies

By G. Pascal Zachary
The Wall Street Journal

October 6, 1989

CUPERTINO, Calif. -- John Sculley is in the throes of a nightmare. Clad in white pajamas, Apple Computer Inc.'s chief executive officer dreams that careless employees have leaked confidential information, causing his company's demise. "Apple Suffers Information Hemorrhage," a tabloid headline screams. Mobs of angry customers storm the company's offices, dubbed "the leaky palace." Apple was "too free, too open," a television newscaster intones.

Mr. Sculley never actually had this nightmare. Last December, he and others acted out the drama for an in-house video crew. Since then, Apple has shown the six-minute video to every new hire and hundreds of veteran workers as part of a big internal campaign aimed at educating employees on the perils of loose lips.

Apple has always had a problem keeping secrets. Gossip about its latest developments is valuable currency in the social milieu of Silicon Valley. It suggests you are hip, "an insider," says independent software developer Heidi Roizen. But recently leaks have become more frequent and more unsettling. Now Apple is determined to plug them.

In March, Apple hired a manager of information security who promptly launched a war against leaks. Among the weapons are buttons for the workforce of 13,000 ("I know a lot but I can keep a secret") and brochures on the importance of secrecy. "Information protection coordinators" -- staffers who volunteer to help spread the word -- patrol their work groups.

Apple also has plastered its office walls with posters on the dangers of spilling inside information. One shows Albert Eisenstat, Apple's senior vice president and former chief legal counsel, wearing sunglasses and a white British barrister's wig. He warns: "The law says that Apple can dismiss any employee who discloses confidential or proprietary information. . . . But we'd rather not. Honestly."

Another features Delbert Yocam, president of Apple's Pacific division, gagged by a table napkin and holding aloft his utensils. The message: beware of gabbing about the company in restaurants. A third pictures Christopher and Sue Espinosa, two employees who are married. They caution that "there are some things that are so confidential they shouldn't be revealed even to your closest relatives, friends and significant others."

Apple's campaign may win awards for cuteness, but probably not for effectiveness. Some suspect the program may even be backfiring. "It almost seems as if the more Apple tries to do, the worse the leaks get," says Daniel Ruby, editor of MacWeek, a trade magazine devoted to news about Apple's Macintosh computer. Sensitive information has been leaked in at least three incidents since the campaign began. Apple refuses to discuss the incidents.

The most alarming leak involved a mysterious group of software pirates called the New Prometheus League. The group, which surfaced in early June, mailed floppy disks containing some of the Macintosh's secret software code to an undetermined number of people, including a computer-industry analyst on Wall Street.

The group, named after a Greek god who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, said in a letter that accompanied the disks that it wanted to make it easier to make copies of the Macintosh. Apple has never licensed the computer's code to anyone and has successfully defended in court its copyrights, barring competitors from making compatible but less expensive versions of the machine. The disclosure apparently wasn't damaging, but it highlighted Apple's vulnerability. The New Prometheus League hasn't been heard from since that incident.

Apple has proven that it intends to do more than plead with employees to button up. Three months ago, Apple fired a software engineer who had disclosed plans for some future products on a computer bulletin board. David Ramsey, the engineer, claims he didn't think the information was confidential because Mr. Sculley had disclosed similar information to a trade journal late last year. "There's one set of rules for executives and another for everybody else," says Mr. Ramsey, who has since joined another electronics firm.

In July, there was yet another leak. MacWeek managed to get its hands on the still-secret Macintosh IIci -- two months before the new machine was to be introduced. MacWeek says its coup was courtesy of an outside firm that had been loaned the machine by Apple.

The magazine's editors pored over the computer, testing its capabilities and photographing its innards. A detailed account of the machine and a picture were splashed on the cover of the magazine's July 25th issue. Apple has assigned several former Federal Bureau of Investigation agents now on staff to try to identify the leaker.

The incident wasn't highly damaging to Apple. At the most, it robbed the company of some suspense in its introduction of the computer. But it illustrated the difficulties the company faces in trying to put a lid on inside information.

At one time or another, some 11,000 outside developers are privvy to various secrets about products in development. The firms, which make software or accessories for Apple computers, often get prototypes of new products months before they are announced publicly. Apple swears the developers to silence by requiring them to sign a pledge of secrecy. Prototypes are also "marked differently in very subtle ways, so if there's a picture or description in the press we can track down the source," says Kirk Loevner, director of Apple's developer group.

More recently, however, Apple has stepped up efforts to enforce secrecy among outside developers. Staff detectives drop in without warning more frequently to check for security violations. Apple has punished some developers in the past by denying them access to important technical data and the opportunity to get new products before they hit the market.

Apple's anti-leak campaign has sparked some concern within the company. Some workers think the effort conjures up a sense of working under an Orwellian Big Brother, ironically an image Apple used in a famous 1984 television commercial attacking rival International Business Machines Corp. "People are working scared," says one worker who asks not to be named. In particular, Mr. Ramsey's firing raises "a lot of fear about job security," the worker adds.

Jane Paradise, Apple's manager of corporate information security, says the company isn't spying on workers. "We're not a police state -- far from it," she says. The drive to tighten security has a lot of support among workers, she insists. "Employees have been outraged by the leaks," she says. "Awareness is up. We're making progress."

She may be right. Employees seem to be embracing the campaign. After Mr. Ramsey was fired, for instance, he was treated as a pariah by former co-workers. "It was though I had some dread communicable disease," Mr. Ramsey recalls.

In any case, Apple's campaign isn't likely to put Mr. Sculley's nightmares entirely to rest. That's partly because of people like Charles Farnham. Mr. Farnham, a San Jose engineer and a passionate Apple fan, has made a hobby of collecting and doling Apple secrets out to other devotees.

"The universe is divided into three types of people," he says. "Those who sleep with the machine, those who use the machine and the business people. Guess which category I'm in?"

Mr. Farnham recently rummaged through several of Apple's dumpsters while a cohort recorded the escapade on videotape for posterity. Mr. Farnham says his foraging turned up scores of technical reports and 20 discarded computer monitors. He combed the company's garbage, he says, to highlight the lax security.

On another occasion, Mr. Farnham persuaded an Apple employee to give him copies of the company's plans for a portable computer. Mr. Farnham sold a story about the plans to a computer weekly. Documents he found during another foray in the corporate garbage can went to a computer users group in Kansas City; the group gave them away as a door prize at a meeting in June.

Mr. Farnham says he is skeptical that Apple will succeed in protecting its secrets. "It all comes down to how many people like me are floating around," says Mr Farnham. "If there's zero, they don't have a problem. If there are 100, Apple's in big trouble."

Credit: Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc