A network administrator has allegedly locked up a multimillion-dollar computer system for the city of San Francisco that handles sensitive data, and he is refusing to give police the password
Terry Childs, 43, was arrested Sunday and has been charged with four counts of tampering with a computer network. According to the office of San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, Childs made changes to the city’s Fibre WAN (wide area network), allegedly rendering it inaccessible to administrators. He also “set up devices to gain unauthorized access to the system,” the DA’s office said in a statement.
The Fibre WAN is used to connect computers in buildings throughout the city and carries about 60 percent of the networking traffic for the city government. On Tuesday it was functioning normally, but the city no longer has administrative access to the switches and routers on the network, according to Ron Vinson, chief administrative officer with the city’s Department of Telecommunication Information Services.
Childs is a network administrator with the city’s Department of Telecommunication Information Services, which runs the city’s critical IT operations, including the e-mail system, Web site, 311 call center and telecommunications infrastructure.
… the city’s new FiberWAN (Wide Area Network), (is) where records such as officials’ e-mails, city payroll files, confidential law enforcement documents and jail inmates’ bookings are stored.
I wonder how clever an administrator he is? For instance, is there a bit of software watching Terry Child’s own name in payroll, that will start formatting databases if his name is deleted? If he were really clever, he could also have another bit of code looking for his name in the inmate booking area.
I wonder if the computer could give the police the go-ahead to let him go? Now that would be clever! I have no idea if it’s possible.
According to the Chronicle Childs has been working for San Francisco for about 5 years, and he was good at what he did. Still, he started getting delusions of power, and his supervisor tried to fire him.
“They weren’t able to do it (fire him) – this was kind of his insurance policy,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the attempted firing was a personnel matter.
As part of his alleged sabotage, Childs engineered a tracing system to monitor what other administrators were saying and doing related to his personnel case, law enforcement officials said.
Now the city is worried that Child’s has some sort of remote access to the system, so they’re keeping him in a cell away from computers – just in case he sends the doomsday code to the city computers.
I wonder who… or what… he would call with his one free phone call?
20 July Update:
Paul Venezia from INFOWORLD has more details and explains Childs motives better. Childs’ motives seem a bit more innocent:
If the details given to me in this e-mail are accurate, it would appear that this case is not nearly what it seemed originally. Perhaps it comes with the pressure and responsibility of the job, or the belief that the network they’ve built is simply too complex for mere mortals to comprehend, but it’s not uncommon for highly skilled network administrators to become overprotective of their networks, or for networks of significant size to become an extension of the person who built them.
It certainly appears that Terry Childs believed San Francisco’s FiberWAN network was his baby, and that by refusing to allow others to access the inner sanctum was in the best interests of the city, the citizens, and perhaps most importantly, himself.