Simson Garfinkel

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Rogue Programmer Sabotages Navy's Computers

A recent case highlights the unwarranted trust we put in programmers and sysadmins alike.

  • April 5, 2007

Richard F. Sylvestre, a former government contractor who had a top- secret clearance, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to sabotaging computers used to track U.S. Navy submarines.

This is an amazing story. According to this article in the Virginian-Pilot, Sylvestre planted a logic bomb in several navy computers after his company was passed over on a bid. He then fled to Italy.

Apparently, three of the five navy computers used to track submarines were shut down as a result of these actions. If all five had been shut down, the navy would have been blind.

Cases of programmers going rogue and planting logic bombs are widely known in the computer industry. It’s easy to forget how much raw power is yielded by programmers and system administrators. We want to trust these people. We need to trust these people. But ultimately, if we wish to protect ourselves and build a truly robust information society, we must develop techniques to minimize the amount of trust required.

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