Responding to published reports last week, Microsoft Corp. said a number of alleged attempts to steal information from lobbying groups associated with it prove "the lengths to which [competitors] are prepared to go to attack Microsoft." But according to one security expert, such security breaches are nothing out of theordinary. People sifting through garbage and even impersonating staff or contractors are "common practice" in many industries, said David Remnitz, CEO of security consultancy firm IFsec LLC in New York. "I don't think Microsoft should act surprised about this," said Remnitz. "This occurs in every highly competitive industry." However, he said, charges are rarely pressed because it's hard to find out who has been stealing information. Last week, Allison Rosen, vice president of public affairs at the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) in Washington, confirmed a report published in The Wall Street Journal that said a company calling itself Upstream Technologies rented space on the same floor as ACT. A person from Upstream ontwo occasions offered cleaning personnel up to $1,200 in cash for garbage belonging to ACT, said Rosen. ACT describes its mission as supporting technological innovation "without undue government interference" and counts Microsoft as a member. Last week, the Journal reported that documents and laptops disappeared in a number of incidents at Citizens for a Sound Economy in Washington and The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., both of which receive funding from Microsoft. The Journal claimed that documents obtained in this manner were leaked to the press, becoming the source for stories critical of Microsoft's lobbying attempts. Microsoft spokesman Rick Miller said the information that was leaked to the press didn't affect the company's antitrust trial but was "more an attempt to influence the political arena." "This latest allegation is particularly troubling and really shows the lengths to which [Microsoft's competitors] are prepared to go to attack Microsoft," Miller said. Microsoft competitors contacted by Computerworld, including Novell Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp., offered no comment on the incidents. "We're trying not to be too Oliver Stone or John Grisham about this," said Rosen, referring to the creators of popular suspense novels and movies. "[But] our entrance on the Washington scene apparently rattled some cages." Microsoft's attempts at lobbying Washington via a wide network of advocacy groups have occasionally led to embarrassment. For instance, it was revealed last fall that Microsoft had bankrolled aseries of supposedly independent advertisements supporting its case. Other revelations that reached the media included the precise amount of funding Microsoft had provided to some of these lobbying groups. Miller said Microsoft has never attempted to hide the fact that it financed these and other groups -- it merely kept the exact amounts confidential. Microsoft is likely to step up its lobbying efforts even further in the future, according to Miller. But he added that this shouldn't be construed as an attempt to influence the outcome of its legal dispute with the U.S. Department of Justice. "We want to win this case in the courts, not in the political arena," said Miller. w Michael Meehan contributed to this story.