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Symantec, the biggest maker of computer-security software, said a person claiming to be part of the Anonymous group tried to extort $US50,000 ($46,276) to keep it from posting stolen source code on the internet.

“Symantec conducted an internal investigation into this incident and also contacted law enforcement given the attempted extortion and apparent theft of intellectual property,” Mountain View, California-based Symantec said in a statement.

A group calling itself Lords of Dharmaraja, which claims an affiliation with hacker group Anonymous, has been publicly taunting Symantec for weeks in online forums, saying that it stole programming code for several Symantec products and was planning to leak it on the web. Symantec said that code that was already posted is real, and was stolen in a 2006 incursion into its network, though most of it was for obsolete products, limiting the potential damage from a disclosure.

One vulnerable program is pcAnywhere, which corporate technical staff used to remotely control employees’ computers. Symantec said it has issued patches, or fixes for known security holes, for the product. Customers using older versions who don’t apply the patches face a slightly increased security risk, Symantec said. That means that hackers may find it easier to break into corporate networks that use the program.

Source code is valuable because it is a blueprint for how a company built a piece of software. Hackers who get their hands on it can hunt for weaknesses.

Security software is constantly probed for programming errors, and many legal, third-party programs exist to help security researchers find those flaws, without the need to examine source code, said Rich Mogull, chief executive officer of Securosis, a Phoenix-based security research firm. That limits the source code’s usefulness in crafting attacks, especially for older products whose errors have already been fixed, Mogull said.

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