'Enormous worries' over possible Harris County IT contractor link to hacker group

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by Alex Sanz / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on February 22, 2011 at 8:50 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 22 at 8:50 PM

HOUSTON -- Harris County Toll Road Authority officials scrambled late Friday after a law enforcement source said a contracted information technology employee appeared to be part of an eleven-member hackers syndicate convicted of hacking into major corporations, 11 News has learned.

The suspected contractor, an employee of a Chicago-based technology firm Adams Harris, was assigned to an information technology team at HCTRA last April.

Peter Key, director of the Harris County Toll Road Authority, said after "enormous worries," a search of the agency's servers found no evidence its information technology system had been compromised.

“There’re certain things that a civilian agency can and cannot do with regards to looking at someone’s background. And, here again, it raises the question: how far can you go and look into someone’s background for possibly criminal behavior,” Key said. “But this is a government agency, we’re charged with protecting the public in certain forums, so we had to do what we had to do, starting Friday night, which is making sure that our systems are secure, and thankfully, so far, we’ve found nothing.”
According to the FBI, a man by the same name, and with the same background of the suspected contractor, was sentenced to two years in prison in the late 1990s after a conviction on criminal fraud charges.

The man, the FBI said, was part of the "Phone Masters" syndicate that hacked into the networks of AT&T, GTE and other major corporations.

Harris County, and Adams Harris, the suspected contractor's employer, severed ties with him earlier this week.

Adams Harris said its background checks vetted contractors for the previous seven years.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority director said the agency continued its investigation.

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