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(Former) IT consultant confesses to SCADA tampering

'Multiple user accounts'

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A former IT consultant for a California oil and gas company has admitted he intentionally tampered with its computer systems after he was turned down for a permanent position there.

Mario Azar of Upland, California pleaded guilty to one felony count of intentionally damaging a computer system used in interstate and foreign commerce, according to documents filed in federal court in Los Angeles. He was an IT consultant for Long Beach, California-based Pacific Energy Resources until around May 8, 2008, when he received his final paycheck.

Beginning on that date, Azar "knowingly caused the transmission of programs," codes, and commands that impaired the computer systems of the company, prosecutors said. Parts of those systems were used to remotely operate giant oil platforms from the company's offices. The systems were also used to detect gas leaks.

Such SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, systems are frequently used to control sensitive equipment at dams, gasoline refineries and other large industrial sites. Security watchers have warned that they are vulnerable to disgruntled insiders or malicious hackers who figure out ways to exploit computer weaknesses.

Azar had set up parts of the Pacific Energy Resources computer system and had established multiple user accounts on it, according to court documents. They didn't make clear whether company administrators had deleted the accounts after the consultant left the company.

Sentencing in the case is scheduled for December 7. ®

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