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Adobe Gift of Solar Phone Chargers Prompts U.S. Inquiry

Someone in Adobe Systems Inc.’s marketing department thought it would be a good idea to send Pentagon personnel solar chargers for their mobile phones. The result was a criminal investigation by the U.S. Navy.

The Navy Criminal Investigative Service is looking into the unsolicited mailing last month of the devices by Adobe, the largest maker of graphic-design programs, to about 100 defense workers as gifts, according to an Army memo labeled “For Official Use Only.”

“Initial contact with Adobe failed to identify association with the mailings; however, subsequent contact revealed these packages were sent by marketing personnel within Adobe,” Joe Ethridge, chief of the Army’s Criminal Intelligence Division, said in the Feb. 4 memo informing its personnel of the incident.

The inquiry reflects increased sensitivity in the military toward the threat of malware that may be hidden on devices, as the government attempts to improve its defenses against cyber-attacks and intrusions. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listed potential cyber-attacks as his top concern in a January assessment of worldwide threats facing the U.S.

“At this time there are no observed indications these devices contain any malware or there is anything malicious regarding” them, according to the Army memo. Even so, it advised personnel: “Do not use the content of the Adobe package or connect it to your BlackBerry; do not connect it to any government-owned IT equipment; and do not employ it on any personally owned IT equipment.”

It also said not to “accept gifts from prohibited sources, to include contractors seeking to do business with the U.S. government.”

Adobe Conference

Colleen Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for San Jose, California-based Adobe, said in an e-mailed statement that the devices were distributed as part of a marketing effort before the company’s 5th Annual Adobe Digital Government Assembly in a hotel near the Pentagon last month.

The technology conference was billed on its website as a chance for more than 500 “senior level government and industry IT leaders” to “hear from technology leaders, senior agency officials and industry pioneers.” Admission was free for government employees.

“Adobe confirmed the authenticity of the packages,” Rodriguez said. “Our understanding is that the NCIS investigation determined the packages were legitimate and contained no threats to IT security.”

The Navy investigation remains open, agency spokesman Ed Buice said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

While Adobe has received about $6.3 million in prime, or direct, contracts from U.S. agencies since the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2000, according to federal data compiled by Bloomberg, software products are often sold to government offices through third-party resellers.

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