Sysadmin Admits to Hitting 'Off' Button at Data Center

A systems administrator who worked at the data center that controls Californias power grid pleaded guilty in December to federal charges that he maliciously shut down the facility after his computer privileges were revoked.

Lonnie Charles Denison, 33, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after admitting that he broke a glass cover and hit an emergency off button at the California Independent System Operators data center in Folsom last April15. By doing so, Denison cut off California from the wholesale electricity market.

That left the state vulnerable to blackouts, although none occurred partly because the data center went offline at 11:23 p.m. on a Sunday. The facility was down for about two hours, and it took seven hours for a team of 20 computer technicians to fully restore the systems there.

Denison had been managing Unix systems as a contractor for Science Applications International Corp. But according to federal prosecutors, he had a dispute with his boss at SAIC and learned just minutes before causing the shutdown that he had lost computer access rights.

The prosecutors also alleged that the next day, Denison e-mailed a bomb threat to a California ISO employee. That prompted the ISO to evacuate about 500 employees from three buildings in Folsom and transfer control of the power grid to another data center.

-- Robert McMillan, IDG News Service


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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