- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

A former U.S. Navy contractor was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Virginia to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay $35,000 in fines and restitution for sabotaging a national security computer network at a Navy command center in Italy.

Richard Sylvestre, 43, of Boylston, Mass., also was ordered to three years supervised probation. He worked as one of three system administrators at the Navy’s European Planning and Operations Command Center (NEPOCC) in Naples.

The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith.

Sylvestre pleaded guilty Sept. 20 to intentionally damaging a Navy computer network used for national security, said U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg in Virginia.

Sylvestre was listed in the court record as the owner of a computer company known as Ares Systems International.

At the Naples facility, he helped oversee the daily operation of a computer system used to track and plot the locations of ships, submarines and underwater obstructions in areas covered by the Navy’s European Command. The computer intrusions by Sylvestre could have caused collisions between Navy and commercial vessels, although it was discovered before any serious harm was done.

According to court documents filed by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent in Norfolk, the Navy considered contract proposals from several firms in December 2005, including the one owned and operated by Sylvestre, to replace one of Sylvestre’s fellow NEPOCC system administrators.

As part of his guilty plea, Sylvestre admitted that when the Navy rejected his proposal and decided to award the work to another firm, he became disgruntled and eventually decided to take action to make the new system administrator “look bad.”

On May 19, 2006, shortly before leaving Italy to travel to the United States, the court records show that Sylvestre secretly programmed a series of malicious commands on five computers in NEPOCC’s network. The documents said he designed the commands to disrupt and to damage the network while he visited the United States.

Mr. Rosenberg said that on May 20 and 21, Sylvestre’s commands began to execute, causing two watch-floor computers and a computer database filter to go offline.

But before any further damage could occur, he said a system administrator discovered the problem and prevented Sylvestre’s commands from affecting the other two targeted computers.

The administrator determined that someone had programmed what is known as a “cron job” into the system, which enables someone to schedule the start of program commands at some future date — in this case, the commands had been entered on a computer last used by Sylvestre.

A criminal complaint in the case said the computer administrator also discovered three other infected computers that, had the programs been launched, would have shut down the entire network that tracks the locations of ships and submarines.

Sylvestre denied that he had any intention to cause a collision or crash, the complaint said.

After discovering the problem, the Navy took extensive steps to secure and to restore the NEPOCC network and its data, Mr. Rosenberg said. No military or civilian personnel were injured as a result of Sylvestre’s actions.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated this case, which was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Krask, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Kosky and Thomas Dukes from the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section at the Justice Department.

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