Employee hands over passwords to hijacked San Francisco computer network

Much to the delight of San Francisco computer network officials, Mayor Gavin Newsom was given the password so the city can again have access to its computer network after it was hijacked by a city employee.

Terry Childs, 43, of Pittsburg, California, manipulated the city's computer system and held it hostage for more than a week before handing over the passwords. Specifically, Childs locked city officials out of the FiberWAN network that controls the city's e-mails, law enforcement records, payroll, and other personal records.

He said he changed the access passwords for everyone because he felt his superiors were naive and negligent about security issues and viruses possibly infecting the system. One of the superiors told Childs he could be suspended and lose his job due to insubordination, which apparently triggered the situation.

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After being arrested and taken into custody on July 13, Childs is being held on $5 million bail, with the higher figure largely because of fears Childs would make bail and then promptly lock the city out of its network forever

The jailhouse meeting took place between Childs, his attorney Erin Crane, and Mayor Newsom, without the knowledge of San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris. Childs and his attorney chose to hand over the passwords to the mayor because he was one of the only people that did not immediately vilify Childs for his actions when the news broke last week.

During a press conference last week, Mayor Newsom said Childs is a "rogue employee" and became "a bit maniacal and full of himself," but still didn't chastise him the same way the local media and city officials did.

After writing down a lengthy security code, Childs then asked Newsom to take the code directly to the Cisco engineers and bypass giving it to city computer officials.

The temporary hostage situation over the city's FiberWAN network has pointed out several procedures San Francisco officials will likely need to fix in the future to prevent a similar situation. City officials indicated Childs, who is a certified Cisco Systems network administrator, was one of the chief designers of the FiberWAN network.

Instead of letting a couple of people, Childs included, have complete access to the city network, each person should only have access to certain parts of the network, officials said. Another security issue is that the city apparently did not keep adequate backups of its computer network in case of major data loss -- or a "rogue" employee hijacking the network.

Engineers from Cisco were brought in to work around the clock to try and gain access to the network, but they had minimal success trying to get through Childs' handiwork before receiving the passwords.

The entire network is now back in the complete control of the city of San Francisco.

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