A central computer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power headquarters downtown went haywire last week, apparently when a saboteur's "logic bomb" went off, rearranging and possibly destroying some personnel and inventory records, along with data on customer requests for new power hookups, authorities said Wednesday.
A DWP spokesman said he doubted that many customers were inconvenienced because of the existence of backup manual systems.
However, the bill for fixing the computer problems could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Lt. Fred Reno, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's computer fraud unit, which is investigating the suspected sabotage.
Those problems apparently are still being sorted out.
"At this point, we don't know if any of the information was destroyed or if (the computer) was only paralyzed in the sense that (information) was changed around so that . . . it was non-retrievable and the information had to be looked for," Reno said.
"Some of that information has been found. Whether it will all be found, we don't know," he added.
Reno defined a logic bomb as "a program that is put into a computer to destroy, remove, replace or change around stored information at a given time and a given date."
He declined to say how a logic bomb is placed or to say whether police are investigating any DWP employees.
"I prefer not to discuss that, because it could damage the investigation," the lieutenant said.
DWP's director of public affairs, Steve Hinderer, offered some apparently contradictory information, claiming that the problem, which he described as suspected "sabotage or vandalism," has been solved.
'Obviously it slows things down in terms of ability to get service," Hinderer said, "but only on new field orders (on power) connections for new customers."
Hinderer said the problem was discovered March 11, when technicians activated the computer and found that it was not working properly.
The computer, which Hinderer described as "a major component of our computer system," was inoperable for six days.
"(The problem) has been corrected now," he said. "Systems are back up."
Hinderer said DWP officials believe that no data was lost in the breakdown.
"It was just that we were not able to enter data in the system," he said.
DWP's customers were largely unaffected, Hinderer believes, because manual backup systems may have been used.
He said the affected computer, located in the DWP headquarters building at 111 N. Hope St., handled data for personnel transfers, promotions and payroll deductions, inventory transactions and purchase orders for equipment, as well as requests for new power connections.
Hinderer said an estimate on the cost of the repairs has not been completed.