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Programmer Accused of Plotting to Sabotage Missile Project

June 26, 1991

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A disgruntled computer programmer planted a ″logic bomb″ in a plot to destroy vital rocket project data and then get hired back as a high-priced consultant to fix the damage, federal investigators say.

Former General Dynamics Corp. programmer Michael John Lauffenburger, 31, was arrested Tuesday, a month after a co-worker stumbled on the rogue program and alerted authorities. They defused the ″bomb″ before it caused any damage.

A logic bomb is a type of computer virus. An encoded set of computer commands was programmed to go off at 6 p.m. on May 24, during the Memorial Day weekend, and then self-destruct, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Dembin.

″Welcome to high technology,″ said Dembin. ″Our ability to use technology has far exceeded our ethical responsibilities in using it.″

″This is the most egregious attempted computer sabotage I’ve ever seen,″ said William Landreth, an agent with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

Lauffenburger was charged with computer tampering and attempted computer fraud. A federal grand jury indicted him minutes before agents arrested him at home.

If convicted, he could get up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Lauffenburger pleaded innocent and was released on $10,000 bail Tuesday night; he was scheduled back in court Monday.

Lauffenburger worked on the billion-dollar Atlas Missile Space Program. The Atlas was developed three decades ago as an intercontinental ballistic missile for the Air Force but has been used as a booster rocket for space shots.

The virus would have destroyed information on contracts and disrupted General Dynamics’ ability to report to the government on the project, Dembin said.

Lauffenburger quit General Dynamics on May 29. He had planned to offer his services at ″a substantial hourly rate of pay″ to help the company reconstruct the lost data and determine what happened to it, the indictment said.

Lauffenburger had written much of the material that was to have been destroyed, so ″it’s fair to say that upon its destruction he would have been called″ to help, Dembin said. He would not say how much Lauffenburger hoped to earn.

The programmer also wanted more recognition, investigators said.

″He created a lot of his work, and in essence he felt he didn’t get the honor he deserved,″ Landreth said.

In May, a co-worker tried to gain access to Lauffenburger’s computer memory bank but was unable to get into one file. The worker contacted security and the logic bomb was eventually detected, Landreth said.

″It’s questionable that some of this information could have ever been reconstructed,″ Landreth said. ″It would have cost $100,000 in reprogramming work, but a lot would have been lost that could have never been retrieved.″

A General Dynamics spokesman refused to comment specifically on the case but said security systems were in place to prevent such sabotage.

″It’s very remote that anything like this has ever happened at General Dynamics before,″ Jack Isabel said.

After leaving General Dynamics, Lauffenburger worked as a programmer for Community Care Network of San Diego.

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