IT contractor denies plan to trash 4,000 servers

An engineer accused of trying to destroy data on 4,000 servers operated by Fannie Mae has pleaded not guilty.

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An engineer accused of trying to destroy data on 4,000 servers operated by Fannie Mae has pleaded not guilty.

Rajendrasinh B. Makwana, 35, entered his plea during an arraignment hearing on Friday before a federal magistrate judge in Maryland, USA.

Makwana, who worked under contract at the Federal National Mortgage Association, better known as Fannie Mae, was terminated 24 October, 2008, after he was accused of creating a settings-changing script without his supervisor's permission.

Within 90 minutes of being fired, Makwana allegedly added another, malicious script to a Fannie Mae server. The second script, hidden within a legitimate script that ran each morning on Fannie Mae's network, was designed to disable monitoring alerts and all log-ins, delete the root passwords to the 4,000 Fannie Mae servers, erase all data and backup data, power off all the servers and then disable the ability to remotely switch on the machines.

The malicious script, which was set to trigger on 31 January, was found by another Fannie Mae engineer within days of Makwana's firing.

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," the government's complaint read.

Makwana's employment record was a matter of some confusion last week. Although an affidavit submitted by the FBI in early January said Makwana was employed by OmniTech Systems, the company disputed that, saying Makwana had not been in their employ at any time, but was instead a "pass-through" contractor paid by another company.

"I've never seen this guy," said Suresh Kalyanaraman, CEO of OmniTech, in a telephone interview last week. Kalyanaraman claimed that the FBI had its details wrong, and that he had, in fact, been instrumental in helping identify Makwana to FBI Special Agent Jessica Nye. "I helped catch the guy," he said.

Kalyanaraman said that Makwana had actually been employed by another IT contractor with an office in the Washington DC area, IonIdea. "He was representing IonIdea at Fannie Mae from his start date til his termination date," said Kalyanaraman.

Narendra KV, a vice president with IonIdea, confirmed some of what Kalyanaraman claimed, but disputed that Makwana was an actual employee of his company, saying that it, like OmniTech, was acting as a pass-through vendor -- essentially, as a general contractor that in turn hired one or more subcontractors.

"Makhwana [sic] was not an IonIdea employee he is an employee of New Jersey-based Marlabs," said Narendra. However, he acknowledged that IonIdea billed Fannie Mae for Makwana's work. "IonIdea strongly discourages such deviant behavior," Narendra said when asked to comment on Makwana's alleged activity. Marlabs has not responded to requests to confirm that Makwana was in its employ.

Last Friday, FBI spokesman Rich Wolf confirmed that the agency now believed IonIdea, not OmniTech, to have been Makwana's employer at the time of his termination. "[OmniTech] were an innocent party here," said Wolf.

Makwana, an Indian national, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted. He is currently free on a $100,000 bond, and has also surrendered his passport.

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