Publisher warnings as cyber criminals attempt to pilfer manuscripts

Publisher warnings as cyber criminals attempt to pilfer manuscripts

A spate of global phishing scams attempting to access agencies’ and publishers’ manuscripts and other sensitive information prompted Penguin Random House (PRH) North America to issue an urgent warning to all staff as the Frankfurt Book Fair began.

The company sent an email to staff on Wednesday (10th October), when The Bookseller revealed scouting agency Eccles Fisher was hit by a phishing scam. Owner Catherine Eccles said someone was purporting to be her in emails and attempting to access manuscripts, authors’ details and other confidential material. The PRH email was circulated with the subject line “Important: New Phishing Alert” and reads: “We have recently seen an increase in attempts to steal our manuscripts. This has occurred in multiple locations across the globe. The individuals attempting to access these manuscripts have a sophisticated understanding of our business. We need to protect ourselves from these threats.”

The email went on to say PRH staff should be “extremely careful” about confidential information such as “manuscripts, user IDs, passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, W-2s [US tax forms] and/or wire transfers”.

PRH North America confirmed the email had been sent, with a spokesperson adding: “Like all companies, Penguin Random House takes all reports of phishing activity and email scams seriously and, when appropriate, notifies its employees to recognise and prevent such attempts. Employee awareness and training... is a critical component of our company’s cybersecurity program.”

The Bookseller understands PRH UK has been similarly targeted, with fraudsters posing as literary agents and foreign-rights staff from seemingly legitimate email addresses. Other houses have also been affected. Pan Macmillan revealed it had also been targeted by scammers trying to access manuscripts, and has issued an internal briefing to staff. The head of another global publisher said that while there have long been scams targeting confidential information such as contracts, seeking manuscripts is a new development.

Yet the scams have not dented the generally positive mood of the fair. Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page said it had been “solid... We’ve been doing good rights and export business. It feels as if the busyness is loaded towards the beginning of the week, with Thursday already feeling a little like Fridays have in the past.”

C+W m.d. Jake Smith-Bosanquet said he was pleased with the momentum built, particularly around Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, which he said was “the most exciting literary non-fiction I’ve had at the fair.”