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Duo deny LA traffic hack charges

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A pair of Los Angeles traffic system engineers have been charged with manipulating traffic signals to disrupt transportation across the city in the run-up to a union protest last August.

Gabriel Murillo, 37 and Kartik Patel, 34, were each charged with one count of unauthorized access of a computer. Mutillo also faces an identity theft charge while Patel has been accused of four disruption of service offences. Prosecutors alleged the pair, engineers at in LA's Automated Traffic Surveillance Center, used purloined supervisor credentials to send commands to reprogram signal control boxes at four critical intersections.

Murillo allegedly accessed codes so that only he and Patel could make changes to the system, blocking other workers from sorting out the escalating chaos. The hack succeeded despite plans by managers to temporarily prevent any engineers making changes to the city's traffic control systems.

In a scenario reminiscent of the hack performed in the classic crime flick The Italian Job, the duo allegedly made changes that meant the light stayed at red for a long time on congested approaches, creating huge traffic jams in the process. Traffic was affected at four intersections - Sky Way and World Way near LAX airport, a major junction in Studio City, a spot in Little Tokyo and near the LA Civic Center, the LA Times reports.

Although no accidents were reported it took four days to bring systems back to normal.

The attack occurred hours before a job action by members of the Engineers and Architects Association. Jane Robison of the District Attorney's Office described the timing of the disruption as "more than a coincidence," CBS reports. It's unclear whether or not Murillo and Patel are members of the union but that's beside the point, according to prosecutors.

"This amounts to sabotage and is not to be tolerated no matter what the dispute or cause," said District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Murillo and Patel were charged by the D.A.’s newly formed high tech crimes division on Friday following an investigation by the LAPD's Computer Crimes Unit. Both men denied the charges at a hearing on Monday and were released on bail, the LA Times adds. ®

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