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An IT contractor has been charged with sabotaging offshore oil rig computer systems.

Mario Azar, 28, of Upland, California, allegedly damaged a drilling firm's computers out of spite after it declined to offer him permanent employment. Azar faces an indictment for unauthorised impairment of a protected computer, an offence punishable by a maximum sentence of up to ten years' imprisonment.

Until May 2008, Azar worked as an IT consultant with the Long Beach-based Pacific Energy Resources. He helped set up a computer system used to communicate between PER's offices and its oil platforms, carrying out functions such as remote telemetry and "leak detection".

Shortly after leaving the job, Azar allegedly hacked into the system and "caused damage by impairing the integrity and availability of data," according to the indictment returned by a Los Angeles grand jury on Wednesday. The assault caused thousands of dollars of damages, prosecutors charge.

Fortunately, although PER briefly lost control of its telemetry systems, the outage did not result in any oil leaks or environmental harm. The case was investigated by the FBI and the Long Beach Police Department who uncovered unspecified evidence that led to Azar's arrest.

Azar faces a court date over the hacking charge in a US District Court in Los Angeles on 6 April. ®

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