OT: FAA allows only copy of source code to get stolen!

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NOW the FAA can finish its remediation!


Ex-FAA engineer accused of stealing air-traffic software By Matt O'Connor and Jon Hilkevitch Tribune Staff Writers October 21, 1999 A former government engineer stole the lone copy of a computer code for a software program that relays critical flight information between the air-traffic tower at O'Hare International Airport and controllers at an air-traffic tower in Elgin, a federal indictment charged Wednesday. Thomas A. Varlotta, who headed a team for the Federal Aviation Administration that developed the complex software, destroyed from his government computer the so-called source code necessary to fix any glitches in what is known as the Automated Flight Data Processing System, the charges alleged . Varlotta's actions didn't endanger the safety of airline passengers at O'Hare, authorities said. But without the software code, a breakdown in the automated system could have forced controllers at O'Hare and the Elgin facility to trade flight information the old-fashioned way--by telephone--and caused a sharp disruption in air traffic at one of the country's busiest airports. "It's an efficiency issue, not a safety issue," said Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for the FAA in the Chicago area. Federal investigators recovered the software code in a raid of Varlotta's Tinley Park home two months after he quit work, but law-enforcement sources said it had been encrypted and it took authorities about six months to unscramble it. In the seven or eight months the FAA went without the software code, however, no breakdowns or malfunctions in the Automated Flight Data Processing System occurred, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation official. The Automated Flight Data Processing System, developed by a team led by Varlotta, electronically transfers information about arriving and departing flights--including the type of aircraft, its direction, altitude and distance from other flights--between the O'Hare tower and controllers at the Terminal Radar Approach and Control facility in Elgin, which directs air traffic within about 30 miles of the airport. The program allows far more flights to be directed out of the airport than the antiquated, paper system controllers previously used. Varlotta, 42, of the 8300 block of Cloverview Drive in Tinley Park, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, but he denied the accusations during a brief telephone interview last week before he was charged. "The charges that I stole the source code are totally false," said Varlotta, a veteran of 15 years with the FAA before his resignation last year. "The FAA has the code and they always had the code ." "I left because the project was pretty much over and I needed something else," he said. "I heard the charges against me are coming down, and I think it's a lot of politics." He declined to elaborate further, and his lawyer was unavailable Wednesday for comment. The indictment charged him with one count each of damaging a government computer, damaging government property and stealing government property. He will be arraigned later in U.S. District Court. U.S. Department of Transportation investigators described Varlotta as a disgruntled employee who became angered when he felt he did not receive proper credit for the work he performed. Between 1993 and 1996, Varlotta, then an electronics engineer for the FAA, headed the team that developed the Automated Flight Data Processing System software, said Dieter H. Harper, special agent-in-charge of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Midwest Office of Inspector General. The following two years, he worked with another programmer to ensure that the software met industry standards, Harper said. While still working on that project, Varlotta resigned on June 18, 1998. As he turned in his laptop computer, Varlotta told a supervisor that he intentionally destroyed the software code, according to Harper. The FAA launched an internal investigation and then enlisted the help of federal authorities, who obtained court authorization to search Varlotta's home on Aug. 24, 1998. Luckily for the FAA, authorities found a copy of the software code in the search, though they weren't able to figure out how to access it until early this year because it had been encrypted. If Varlotta had destroyed the only copy, the FAA would have been back at square one and forced to take another three to five years to develop the complicated software, Harper said. The fact that the critical software code apparently was in the possession of only one employee raises questions of mismanagement, Harper conceded , but he said Varlotta was a trusted, well-paid employee of the FAA. "I'm just a layman," Harper said. But "that doesn't sound like a good business practice," he said. O'Hare's became the first air-traffic tower in the nation to implement the automated technology in 1996 when the airport's new 260-foot tower and the Elgin air-traffic facility opened. Flight plan information is routed on-line and delivered to computer monitors that controllers use to direct about 4,000 flights each day at O'Hare . Before 1996, when the Terminal Radar Approach and Control operation was located in the basement of O'Hare's old tower, slips of paper containing flight data were passed back and forth through a pneumatic tube system. Sometimes, however, the plastic canisters that were used to hold the strips would get stuck in the tubes. The relocation of the operation to Elgin, 22 miles away, prompted the need for a more sophisticated system. The new system uses keyboards, modems and computer screens that display an electronic picture similar to the old paper strip. Each flight has its own three-digit computer identification, and controllers use a touch screen to select runways and then type in course headings for aircraft. The new system was not without its problems when introduced, according to controllers at O'Hare. "This thing was a political hot (potato) when it came on board because there were problems and the FAA didn't want to spend a lot of money fixing a simple piece of equipment that essentially involves a modem and printers on each end," said one controller. Tribune Staff Writer Bradley Keoun contributed to this .

-- plonk! (realaddress@hotmail.com), October 21, 1999


sorry, I thought I formatted it....grrrrrrrrrr

-- plonk! (realaddress@hotmail.com), October 21, 1999.

Ineptitude, politics, disgruntled programmers -- bring on the soaps! Y2K is the richest ripest storyline ever imagined, and yet it is being met with yawns and disdain.

Man's EGO cannot accept that he has forfeited earth's carrying capacity to the computers.

Time Will Tell

-- not flying the "friendly skies" (allaha@earthlink.net), October 21, 1999.

"a likely story" (said with three stooges intonation)

-- ..- (dit@dot.dash), October 21, 1999.

To laugh or cry? Unbelievable. I'm at a loss for words. Our .gov at work. Didn't these guys ever hear of BACKUP?

How have they managed to survive for this long...

Tick... Tock... <:00=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), October 21, 1999.

Why don't they pay some top-gun consultant the bucks required to reverse engineer the software? It can be done.

It is their own code, so they wouldn't have to worry about any laws dealing with reverse engineering someone elses code.

-- (cannot-say@this.time), October 21, 1999.

Sounds more like this dude is being set up as a patsy.

US:"The FAA doesn't have compliance!!"

THEM:"Its all because a -disgruntled- ex-employee sabotaged us!"

Why not? It seems logical that the FAA, knowing full well that they aren't ready for the rollover, create this bogus sounding story a few months in advance to have someone to blame. Its called 'laying groundwork.' Gotta hunch we'll be hearing about this again...

-- Billy Boy (Rakkasan@Yahoo.com), October 21, 1999.

The finger pointing brigade can do much better than this!

They must have pulled this off before the first cup of coffee.

This story is just to blow out the pipes.

-- no talking please (breadlines@soupkitchen.gov), October 21, 1999.

Story after story ... Help, we're trapped in Idiot Land!

-- prisoners in the zoo (allaha@earthlink.net), October 21, 1999.

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