This story first appeared in Noseweek
Did Standard Bank lie and cheat to steal an idea worth billions? When atm and internet fraud started seeping into public consciousness in the 1990s, Joburg-based software development company Advertising Digital Services (ADS) came up with a novel solution to a growing problem: hackers had found a way to secretly install a program on computers that would record keystrokes and mouse-clicks when users were logging on to sensitive websites. With this information, they could empty a bank account from anywhere in the world. ADS’s solution was to remove the keyboard as a point of entry to the computer and replace it with an on-screen virtual pin-pad that, each time it was used to input a password or PIN number, would rearrange the digits on its virtual keyboard. ADS director Johan Reynders wanted to patent the system, but was advised against it because, in any event, the system was protected by copyright for 50 years.
To avoid any ambiguity about ownership, however, he uploaded it to the internet in the 1990s so that people around the world could download it free, but only with his permission and provided they acknowledged that the intellectual property rights remained with ADS. Importantly, he says, he chose not to provide any information on the uses and applications of the product so as to prevent software developers coming up with rip-offs. He knew the industry had not yet woken up to the threats from hackers. When it did, he planned to introduce his solution to potential clients.