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It is every commercial and government organization's worst IT nightmare: the disgruntled inside hacker. Some steal information, others decide to go on a destructive rampage. The US subsidiary of the Japanese pharmaceutical company Shionogi got a reminder of its nightmare of the latter kind this week.

According to stories in various news media as well as the press release at the US Attorney's office for the District of New Jersey, Jason Cornish pleaded guilty yesterday to US federal charges of knowingly transmitting computer code with the intent to damage computers in interstate commerce. Mr. Cornish is currently scheduled for sentencing on November 10, 2011; he faces a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Mr. Cornish was an IT employee at Shionogi, which has operations in Florham Park, N.J., and in Atlanta, Ga., where he worked. According to a story at ComputerWorld, he quit the company in July 2010 after a dispute with management. He was rehired as a consultant at the suggestion of his friend and former supervisor for two more months because of his knowledge of the computer systems there.

In September, Mr. Cornish resigned from Shionogi. Shortly thereafter, Shionogi announced layoffs that would affect his former supervisor. According to court documents (PDF), on or before October 1, 2010, the supervisor "refused to return certain network passwords to Shionogi officials, which led the company to suspend and later fire him."

Shionogi apparently did not do a very good job of changing all the passwords to its computer systems or seeing if they were being abused in the light of the episode with Mr. Cornish's former supervisor; beginning on or about the 1st of October, the court documents state, that Mr. Cornish began hacking into Shionogi's computer system aided by his knowledge of its operations. On the 13th of January of this year, he secretly installed some software—a vSphere VMware management console—on Shionogi's computer system.

Next, on the 3rd of February, Mr. Cornish used a public network at a McDonald's located in Smyrna, Ga., to access the console, where Mr. Cornish proceeded, says the US Attorney's office:

"... to delete the contents of each of 15 'virtual hosts' on Shionogi’s computer network. These 15 virtual hosts housed the equivalent of 88 different computer servers.... The deleted servers housed most of Shionogi’s American computer infrastructure, including the company’s e-mail and BlackBerry servers, its order tracking system, and its financial management software.

"The attack effectively froze Shionogi’s operations for a number of days, leaving company employees unable to ship product, cut checks, or communicate by email. Shionogi sustained approximately $800,000 in losses responding to the attack, conducting damage assessments, and restoring the company’s network to its prior condition."

After the Mr. Cornish's attack, the FBI’s Cyber Crimes Task Force was called in and through its forensic analysis was able to identify him as the likely attacker. Mr. Cornish was arrested in July. Mr. Cornish's former supervisor and friend has been not charged.

There is a nice list of 11 inside-hacking attacks following a story on Mr. Cornish's guilty plea at The Register.

Photo: iStockphoto

The Conversation (0)

Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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