Related topics

Experts: Planting Computer Bombs Latest High-Tech Revenge for Angry Workers

June 26, 1991

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Planting computer bombs and viruses is the latest high-tech revenge for disgruntled workers, computer security experts said Wednesday.

″It’s like using a gun to take out six people in the company who you don’t like, only you shoot up the computer and no one dies,″ said Philip Chapnick, director of the Computer Security Institute in San Francisco.

A former General Dynamics Corp. employee was arrested Tuesday for plotting to destroy vital information, but rarely does the high-tech hacker get caught.

″Most of the time, someone leaves the company and then six weeks later things start going crazy,″ said Angel Rivera, owner of H&A Micro Consultants in Arlington, Va., which specializes in cleaning viruses out of computers.

″The fact is, you usually don’t know who’s responsible,″ Rivera said.

In San Diego, the former General Dynamics Corp. computer programmer, Michael John Lauffenburger, was arrested for allegedly planting a ″logic bomb,″ a type of virus that would have destroyed vital rocket project data.

Lauffenburger’s goal, according to a federal indictment, was to get rehired as a high-priced consultant to fix the damage he created. He quit May 29.

A fellow General Dynamics worker defused the plot by accidentally stumbling onto the logic bomb. Lauffenburger was charged with computer tampering and attempted computer fraud.

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. He pleaded innocent and was released on $10,000 bail.

″We’re hoping that this prosecution lets programmers know that if they intend to abuse the computer system ... they’re not going to get a slap on the wrist,″ said U.S. Attorney Mitchell Dembin, who is prosecuting the case.

Peter Neumann, a computer security expert with SRI International of Menlo Park, said most cases don’t get reported when disgruntled workers sabotage the company on the way out the door.

″Companies don’t want it known that they’re vulnerable,″ said Neumann, who has counted about half a dozen widely publicized cases of disgruntled worker hackers. ″I’d say that you’re going to see more of this, though.″

Neumann has tracked worker computer sabotage in insurance, utility and securities companies and at the offices of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Most cases involved wiping out key records.

In a Fort Worth, Texas, case in 1988, a programmer was convicted of planting a virus in his employer’s computer that was activated when he got his pink slip, erasing 168,000 company records.

Peter Tippet, president of Certus International Corp. of Cleveland, said there’s not much companies can do to protect against high-tech viral attacks from employees with access to computer equipment and access codes.

Tippet’s company sells virus-resistant software that provides some protection. Tippet said 10 percent of the larger companies in North America reported some virus problems during May.

Many companies prohibit employees from bringing software to work so outside viruses can’t infect the computer system, said Tippet. Some companies require programming to be checked by a second worker to catch mistakes and sabotage.

″People have an immune system to fight viruses, but computers don’t, at least not now,″ Tippet said.

Update hourly