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Fannie Mae engineer indicted for planting server bomb

Contract employee inserted script that would have wiped out all data this Saturday

January 29, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's Note: This story now includes updated information about the employment status of Rajendrasinh Babubhai Makwana.

A former Unix engineer for the Federal National Mortgage Association, better known as Fannie Mae, has been accused of planting malicious code on the corporation's network that was to "destroy and alter" all of the data on the company's servers this Saturday, court documents show.

Rajendrasinh Babubhai Makwana, 35, was indicted Tuesday by a federal court on a single charge of computer intrusion, according to documents released yesterday.

Makwana was let go from his contract position at Fannie Mae's Urbana, Md., data center on Oct. 24, 2008, after he had "erroneously created a computer script that changed the settings on the Unix servers without the proper authority of his supervisor," read a complaint sworn by FBI Special Agent Jessica Nye earlier this month. Makwana had created that settings-changing script on Oct. 10 or Oct. 11, as much as two weeks before he was fired, Nye said.

Although Nye's affidavit said Makwana was employed by OmniTech Systems Inc., the company late Thursday disputed that, saying Makwana had not been in their employ at any time, but was instead a "pass-through" contractor paid by another company. On Friday, FBI spokesman Rich Wolf confirmed OmniTech's claim. "They were an innocent party here," said Wolf.

Within 90 minutes of being told he was terminated on Oct. 24, and several hours before his access to the Fannie Mae network was disabled later that evening, Makwana embedded a malicious script in a legitimate script that ran on Fannie Mae's network every morning, Nye said in her affidavit.

The malicious script was set to trigger Jan. 31 -- this Saturday -- but was discovered by another Fannie Mae engineer just five days after Makwana was fired. According to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Makwana tried to hide the malicious script by inserting a page of blank lines at the bottom of the legitimate script.

"It was only by chance that [the Fannie Mae engineer] scrolled down to the bottom of the legitimate script to discover the malicious script," the complaint read.

If the malicious script had gone undiscovered, it would have disabled monitoring alerts and all log-ins, deleted the root passwords to the approximately 4,000 Fannie Mae servers, then erased all data and backup data on those servers by overwriting with zeros.

"Finally, this script would power off all servers, disabling the ability to remotely turn on a server," said the government's complaint. "Subsequently, the only way to turn the servers back on was physically getting to a data center."

The malicious script would have disabled monitoring alerts and log-ins, deleted root passwords to 4,000 Fannie Mae servers, and erased all data and backup data on those servers by overwriting with zeros.

The script would have "caused millions of dollars in damage and reduced if not shutdown [sic] operations at [Fannie Mae] for at least one week" if it had not been found before Saturday's trigger date, the complaint said.

According to Nye, the FBI traced the malicious script to Makwana through Fannie Mae network logs, and by comparing the contents of a directory that Makwana created the day he was terminated with the naming scheme of temporary files on his laptop, which he turned in later that day.

An Indian national, Makwana was released on $100,000 bond. He also surrendered his passport and was barred from using computers or the Internet except for use in any job he holds as well as to communicate with his family in India.

Makwana faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.

Fannie Mae opened the 130,000-sq.-ft. Urbana data center, which is just outside Frederick, Md., in August 2005, and at the time touted its energy-savings construction and operation.

Fannie Mae's corporate spokesman did not return a call for comment.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.



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