IT contractor indicted over oil company computer intrusion

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A federal grand jury this week indicted a disgruntled IT contractor on charges he disrupted a computer system used, among other purposes, to notify an energy company if its oil properties are leaking.

Mario Azar, 28, who was upset he wasn't being offered permanent employment, was indicted Wednesday on one count of unauthorized impairment of a protected computer, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

Azar is accused of damaging a computer system he set up for Pacific Energy Resources, a developer of oil and gas fields, "by impairing the integrity and availability of data," according to the indictment. By disabling the system, Azar also disrupted the company's leak detection function.

The incident, which occurred in May and June 2008, caused thousands of dollars of damage, prosecutors said. Azar had been under contract with Pacific Energy Resources, but left in May when he wasn't offered full-time employment.

"It's a real corporate sin to have not revoked his access the moment he had departed," said Manoj Patel, CEO of Lanxoma, which provides access control solutions. "This is a major failure of policy by any company."

Patel told SCMagazineUS.com on Thursday that this situation speaks to the worsening economy, and in a climate of layoffs, contractors usually are the first to go -- but they often carry the deepest technical understanding and highest privileges, he said.

A spokesman at Pacific Energy Resources did not respond to a request for comment.

Azar is scheduled to make an initial appearance April 6 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
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