A Los Angeles federal grand jury indicted a disgruntled tech employee Tuesday on allegations of temporarily disabling a computer system detecting pipeline leaks for three oil derricks off the Southern California coast.
Mario Azar, 28, faces a maximum 10-year term after being accused of purposely impairing a computer system that monitored for leaks on three Pacific Energy Resources platforms offshore of Huntington Beach.
Federal authorities expressed alarm over the incident. Most malicious hacks, especially those by aggrieved employees, often wreak havoc on a company's internal computer operations to disrupt business activity. But in this case, the Southern California coastline was exposed to an environmental disaster.
"It was offline. The leak-detection system was rendered inoperable for a period of time," said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for Los Angeles federal prosecutors.
It's not the first time a hack was directed at the environment.
An Australian man was sent to prison for two years in 2001 after gaining unauthorized access to a Queensland sanitation system -- releasing millions of gallons of raw sewage. And in 2003, the Slammer worm penetrated the network at Ohio's Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, disabling a safety monitoring system for nearly five hours.
Azar did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Bill Lane, a spokesman for Long Beach-based Pacific Energy Resources, said there was no oil leak from the derricks that are connected to the Southern California shore with miles-long oil pipelines.
He declined further comment.
According to the indictment (.pdf), Azar was an information technology consultant for Pacific Energy Resources who received his last paycheck May 8. He sought permanent employment, but the company refused, according to the indictment.
From May 8 to June 29, according to the indictment, Azar used his multiple user accounts to impair the leak-detection system while logged in from his Southern California home.
Azar is expected to make his initial court appearance April 6.