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Golf Course Struck by Landslide Gets Hit by Hackers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Computer vandals have hacked their way into the computer system at the Ocean Trails golf course on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, creating another setback for the seaside luxury course that lost part of its 18th hole last month in a landslide.

The weekend vandalism, which wiped out files ranging from payroll data to correspondence, “is devastating,” said Kenneth Zuckerman, one of several members of the family of longtime landowners who have spent almost 15 years on the project.

“I think all the negative publicity associated with this project has somehow influenced someone whose head isn’t screwed on right to do something malicious,” Zuckerman said.

He said the hacker, or hackers, left a message for developers on a company computer terminal that read, “Got ya . . . !”

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Zuckerman said he and the company’s head accountant were working Sunday on a computer in offices at the golf course construction site in Rancho Palos Verdes when “she noticed things just seemed to have disappeared. We contacted our service company and they said it looked like somebody had hacked the system through our Internet connection. . . . Then the message appeared on the screen.”

Zuckerman said he reported the incident to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI. Deputies at the Lomita sheriff’s station said they took a report on Sunday and forwarded copies to detectives and to investigators in a special unit set up to investigate computer crime.

A spokeswoman for the FBI’s local office said she could not comment on whether the agency has received a report or opened an investigation. She said, however, that any such report would be reviewed for a possible violation of federal law.

The new course, with its $200 weekend greens fees and breathtaking ocean views, was nearing completion when a landslide on June 2 sent about half the 18th hole into the Pacific; a county sanitary sewer line running beneath the course also broke off in the slide.

Tests are still underway to determine the cause of the slide, but it has generated fresh controversy over development in the area, which has both ancient and active landslides.

The Rancho Palos Verdes City Council has scheduled a session for next Tuesday to discuss Ocean Trails.

Meanwhile, cracks developed in a roadway about 200 yards east of the course almost three weeks ago, raising further concerns about land stability in the area.

Public Works Director Dean Allison said the land beneath Palos Verdes Drive South--a major, scenic road on the peninsula--occurred with settling of a landfill beneath the road, which was built in the 1940s. The settling could have been caused by a leaking sewer line or by temporary irrigation to establish a newly restored native vegetation at Ocean Trails, Allison said.

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Workers built a bypass around the faulty sewer line last week, the irrigation has stopped and the road has been patched, Allison said, adding that the city will continue to monitor the road but believes it has the problems solved.

Zuckerman, who says that the brief and light irrigation could not have been responsible for the roadway cracks, said the computer hackers made a lot of extra work for his employees but did nothing that will keep the course from opening.

“There were no secrets, nothing of value to anyone but ourselves, but it is a terrible thing to do to a business,” Zuckerman said. “It means an awful lot of extra work for our already hard-working employees.”

“We’ve bent over backwards to try to be very responsible here, and to have someone come along and do this is very discouraging,” Zuckerman said.

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Sheriff’s Det. Michael Gurzi of the department’s expanding High Tech Crimes Detail said there has been a dramatic increase of incidents of computer vandalism.

Sometimes it is done to steal trade secrets or help with a hostile company takeover, but other times it is done just to inflict pain on the victim.

“If [the hackers] are not as sophisticated as they think they are, they can be traced,” Gurzi said. “But if they really know what they are doing, sometimes they can disguise themselves.”


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