Columbia Sportswear has sued a former IT employee whom it accuses of hacking into its email system for more than two years in an attempt to land more work for his new boss. Michael Leeper accessed the emails of Columbia's senior executives and IT department in hopes of gleaning information that would help him win technology contracts with the company, according to a lawsuit filed on March 1 in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore. Leeper left Columbia Sportswear in 2014 after 14 years with the company to join Denali Advanced Integration of Redmond, Washington, a middle-man reseller of computer hardware and software. The suit names Leeper, Denali and Denali's parent company, 3MD Inc. Allegedly, when Leeper left in 2014, he set up an unauthorized account under a fake name — Jeff Manning or jmanning — and used those credentials to gain access to Columbia’s records 700 times. Columbia says it detected the breach when it upgraded its software last summer. Denali has denied having any knowledge or involvement in the situation.
Total Retail’s Take: Although it appears Leeper is totally in the wrong here, this breach brings to light a security lapse in one of the largest apparel and footwear retailers. Hackers are growing more sophisticated, and it’s becoming harder for companies to fend them off. Corporate hacking is estimated to have cost the global economy $445 billion last year alone. This is something all retailers can be affected by, and Columbia is evidence to that.