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Infrastructure firms have swords drawn

Allegations of espionage, hacking, libel. No, this is not a Tom Clancy novel. It's the Internet infrastructure business, with the latest battle being Akamai vs. Speedera.

Forget about making Web sites faster. The big Net infrastructure issues of the day are allegations of industrial espionage, hacking and libel.

Boston-based Akamai Technologies sued rival Speedera Networks on Tuesday, accusing Speedera's chief technology officer of breaking into a partner's database and stealing proprietary Akamai information.

The lawsuit came several days after the FBI visited Speedera's Santa Clara, Calif., offices, acting on a sealed affidavit that Speedera said was filed by Akamai.

Speedera is denying everything, saying Akamai is simply trying to tarnish its good name. That company filed its own lawsuit against Akamai on Tuesday for unfair competition, false advertising and trade libel.

"They've misrepresented everything about us that they possibly could," said Gordon Smith, vice president of marketing at Speedera. The accusations of hacking and data theft are "grossly inaccurate," he added.

The two companies are leaders in the increasingly competitive business of speeding customers' Web sites. Akamai broke the "content delivery" business into the mainstream in 1999, after proving to Yahoo it could substantially decrease the site's download times using the start-up's network technology. Speedera, along with many other companies, followed not long afterward.

But as the Internet bubble collapsed and the pool of potential customers shrank, the rivalry between these companies became more bitter. Akamai filed a patent infringement suit against Speedera last February, and Speedera said this week's events stem from that dispute. Speedera was granted a broad patent on its technology on Tuesday.

The claim filed by Akamai in state Superior Court in San Francisco on Tuesday contains detailed allegations of willful data theft by Speedera Chief Technology Officer Richard Day.

According to the complaint, Day somehow gained access to private databases operated by Keynote Systems, a company that measures the speed and health of Web sites and the Internet. Keynote had been hired by Akamai to verify and quantify its Net-speeding claims.

Akamai alleged that Day repeatedly used a digital subscriber line in a Mountain View, Calif., apartment to tap into Keynote's private database and download information about Akamai tests and customers. According to the complaint, Day began the practice in late February and tapped into Keynote's systems using Akamai's security codes at least 33 times.

The complaint gave no indication how Akamai had obtained such specific information. Akamai declined to comment on this point.

"We're appalled that by stealing our data, as our suit alleges, Speedera tried to create a business, not by making an investment in its own company, but by misappropriating the hard work and significant investment Akamai has made," Akamai President Paul Sagan said in a statement. "We intend to use every resource at our disposal to address this wrongful conduct and to protect Akamai's business and customer relationships."

A Keynote spokesman also declined to comment on the lawsuits or allegations, saying only that the company was cooperating with authorities.

Smith said the FBI had visited Speedera's offices Monday morning. Agents had been acting on a sealed affidavit, which they said had been filed by Akamai, and gave no indication of its contents, Smith said.

In a court hearing on the issue Wednesday, a judge granted Akamai its request for an expedited discovery process and set a new court date for July 24. Akamai is seeking to block Speedera from acting on any customer or proprietary marketing information that it might have obtained as a result of Day's alleged activities.