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Computer Halts Bid to Sabotage Encyclopedia

September 06, 1986|Associated Press

CHICAGO — A disgruntled employee who tried to sabotage the Encyclopaedia Britannica by secretly rewriting parts of its 1988 edition was thwarted by a sophisticated computer, the company said Friday.

"Our system possesses built-in safeguards against tampering, so the attempt was quickly spotted," spokesman Norman Braun said.

"Within a matter of hours of the discovery, we not only had identified the range of errors but the person responsible," Braun said. "It's the first time this has happened."

Braun refused to identify the nature of the changes made in the text or their number.

The Chicago Tribune, quoting unidentified sources, said that some of the more vivid changes included substituting Allah, the Muslim name for God, for the name Jesus Christ.

Can Identify Changes

Braun said the encyclopedia's computer data base allows a proofreader to "identify all changes in copy, the person who made the changes and the date the changes were made."

Company executives confronted the employee with the changes, which were detected on Aug. 22. By Tuesday, the man had confessed and agreed to help correct the text, Braun said.

He would not to identify the person or say whether a decision had been made about attempting to prosecute him.

Braun said the employee had been laid off in mid-August, shortly before discovery of the tampering.

Britannica executives said that the firm is not changing the 32-volume, 44-million-word 1987 edition but that employees are attempting to catch mistakes before they slip into the 1988 edition.

"None of these (unauthorized) changes left the computer room," Braun said. "We have a full admission from the employee, and he confirmed our identification of the changes."

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