Wednesday, January 10, 2007

2 accused of sabotaging L.A. traffic lights

The high-ranking city transit engineers allegedly disabled signals at four busy intersections Aug. 21 during a union contract dispute.

By Bob Pool, Times Staff Writer
January 6, 2007

 

Who greenlighted this traffic-signal project?

That was the question flashing through the traffic-control center beneath Los Angeles City Hall on Friday as two high-ranking city transportation engineers were accused of sabotaging intersection signal lights during a labor union contract dispute four months ago.

They have been charged with multiple counts of illegally hacking into traffic-control computers and disabling signals at four busy intersections Aug. 21.

Gabriel Murillo, 37, and Kartik Patel, 34, allegedly rigged computers to disconnect signal lights at Sky Way at World Way at Los Angeles International Airport, Coldwater Canyon Avenue at Riverside Drive in Studio City, Glendale Boulevard at Berkeley Avenue in Echo Park, and 1st and Alameda streets in Little Tokyo.

According to prosecutors, the pair changed computer codes to prevent transportation managers from reprogramming and reactivating the traffic lights for four days. No accidents were reported during the outage.

Authorities said the hacking occurred on the eve of a two-day job action by members of the Engineers and Architects Assn., which represents 7,500 city workers. About 1,500 union members walked off their jobs

"This amounts to sabotage and [should] not be tolerated no matter what the dispute or cause," Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement.

Union officials were unavailable for comment Friday. Robert Aquino, executive director of the Engineers and Architects Assn., did not return repeated calls. But in an Aug. 21 interview with The Times about the pending two-day strike, Aquino noted: "Los Angeles is not going to be a fun place to drive."

Murillo and Patel also could not be reached for comment Friday. They were scheduled to surrender and be arraigned on the felony charges Monday, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. Bail of $25,000 each is being recommended.

Murillo is charged with one count each of unauthorized access of a city computer and identity theft. Patel is charged with one count of unauthorized access of a computer and four counts of unauthorized disruption or denial of computer services.

According to Friday's criminal complaint, Murillo assumed the identity of Sean Skehan, principal transportation engineer for the city's Bureau of Transportation Design and its Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control Center, to obtain access to the restricted computers. The control center is at the highly secure Emergency Operations Center beneath City Hall East.

Traffic engineers in the center operate a sophisticated computerized network that monitors road conditions with cameras and pavement sensors. The engineers can react to traffic jams by adjusting signal timing to improve the flow of vehicles through intersections.

Skehan was unavailable for comment. But those on duty at the control center voiced shock at the criminal charges as they struggled Friday to deal with a spate of traffic signal outages across the city.

"Today's been crazy. It's the wind. It wasn't sabotage, that I can be sure of," said one control room worker, who asked not to be identified.

Verej Janoyan, a senior traffic engineer, said he knew there was "an ongoing investigation" into August incidents. But "my heart just dropped, just now hearing this," Janoyan said when told of the charges.

John Fisher, assistant general manager of transportation operations for the city, said access to the traffic computers is tightly limited.

"We have controls in place to limit the number of individuals who have access," he said. "We have ongoing procedures in place to learn of actions taken by those who have accessed the system."

Investigation of the August incident was handled by the computer crimes unit of the Los Angeles Police Department's Commercial Crimes Division. Charges were filed by the district attorney's newly formed High Tech Crimes Division.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was branded a "scab" by Engineers and Architects Assn. leaders for announcing that he intended to cross picket lines if necessary to get to work, had no comment on the charges, according to aides.

Late last month, the city's five-member Executive Employee Relations Committee — which includes Villaraigosa — and union leaders reached agreement on a new contract that would provide a 9% raise over the next three years. The deal awaits approval by union members, who are paid an average of $74,500 a year.

 

Microsoft Turned To National Security Agency For Vista Security Help

By W. David Gardner, InformationWeek
11:25 AM EST Tue. Jan. 09, 2007

Microsoft has confirmed and elaborated on the role the National Security Agency played in helping secure the firm's Vista operating system, according to a report in Tuesday's Washington Post.

The eavesdropping and code-breaking agency has some of the best cryptographers in the world, and the NSA detailed a team to work with Microsoft on the new operating system, which is expected to be used eventually by hundreds of millions of computer users.

The relationship isn't exactly top secret: The newspaper noted that Microsoft's Web pages take note of the NSA's involvement in the "Windows Vista Security Guide."

The issue of possible NSA involvement with Microsoft operating systems has a long history. In 1999, Microsoft denied reports of NSA involvement in the code key used with the Microsoft Cryptographic API, although different sources claimed to have knowledge of NSA-Microsoft cooperation on the measure. This time, however, Microsoft and the NSA are acknowledging the agency's work on Vista. "Our intention is to help everyone with security," the NSA's Tony W. Sager told the Post. "It's partly a recognition that this is a commercial world. Our customers have spoken."

Sager, who is the NSA's chief of vulnerability analysis and operations group, said the agency established two units to examine Vista security issues. One group worked as the violator while the other sought to defend the operating system from incursions.

And, although Microsoft denied NSA assistance in 1999, the software company said it has used the NSA in the last four years to examine its operating systems including Windows XP consumer version and Windows Server 2003 for business customers, according to the newspaper report.

 

 

Mall guards to be instructed in terrorism prevention

Jan 9, 2007 3:37 PM


Starting this month, malls across the country will begin training guards to fight terrorism.

The 14-hour program is being developed by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, and the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University at a cost of $2 million. It is the first standardized anti-terrorism curriculum written for the nation's estimated 20,000 mall security guards, The Washington Post reports.

Developers of the program say it is crucial to safeguarding shopping centers. "Many different facets of our society since the Sept. 11 attacks have had to take the stark realization that bad people might try to do bad things," Paul M. Maniscalco, a senior research scientist who helped create the program, tells the newspaper. "Security is really paramount in large enclosed malls. These events, when you respond to them, you make or break it in the first 20 minutes."

The training focuses on making guards more aware of the effects of terrorist attacks and helping them recognize potential attackers. It ranges from understanding the characteristics of the nerve agent sarin (especially dangerous in enclosed spaces because it vaporizes quickly) to spotting suicide bombers (look for unusual dress, like a heavy coat in the middle of summer).

The program is being tested at a handful of shopping centers and is planned to be rolled out over the next six months.

The Department of Homeland Security categorizes shopping centers, along with other easily accessible public places, as "soft targets."

Though security officers are usually uniformed, they are not intended to appear threatening.

"Their job is to be welcoming," Robert Rowe, director of development for the ASIS International, tells the Post. "The shopping mall doesn't survive unless people come."

Robert C. Davis, senior research analyst at Rand Corp., tells the newspaper that it is not feasible to teach mall guards the complex skills needed to identify potential terrorists, who are tracked through highly developed intelligence networks. He contends there is little malls can do to prevent an attack -- they can only react to one.

"The biggest things malls can do is have really well-developed, detailed emergency response plans and rehearse them," Davis says. "The best thing they can do is respond effectively."

Maniscalco says the curriculum focuses on awareness and response and was developed with the same materials used in training courses for emergency responders and law enforcement, tailored for mall security officers. "This is all real-world, everyday stuff that the security officer will encounter," Maniscalco says.

 

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