The Case Of The San Francisco Hacker

29 Jul

A computer engineer by the name of Terry Childs continues to hold San Francisco’s brand-spanking-new computer network hostage. The multi-million dollar system called FiberWAN, is protected by Childs’ password which gives him the only key to the city’s emails, confidential law enforcement documents, city payroll files and inmate booking information. Childs was taken into custody on July 13 and has since been charged with four counts of computer tampering. He is currently being held on five million dollars bail. He initially gave police a password, but it didn’t work. Even under pressure, he refused to give authorities the correct password.

A city official familiar with Mr. Childs case says that the system administrator, who had been working in the position for five years, had been disciplined for sub-par performance. Additionally, the city official said that his superiors had even tried to fire him. Luckily for Mr. Childs, he had a premium insurance policy- San Francisco’s network. Authorities say that Childs started messing with the network on June 20th and that his work could cost the city millions of dollars to fix the denial of service.

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Another setback for authorities is the fact that Childs may have allowed another person or group to access the system remotely and destroy valuable sensitive documents. An article on this story offers this about Childs’ plot:

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.

A number of tech blogs have painted a picture Terry Childs as a rebellious system administrator that was lashing out because of frustrations at work. Despite making around $150,000 a year, I guess there was a part of his job he didn’t care for. Even though the password that I referred to in the first paragraph didn’t unlock the main system, they did allow access to a computer system in the Hall of Justice. This development led to the discovery of over 1,000 modems in locked cabinets and hiding places. The most ridiculous part of this is that he was able to construct the extensive infrastructure without his superiors taking notice. It has been reported that Childs was planning a total meltdown of the entire FiberWAN network. The attack would target supervisors and coworkers that Childs felt were incompetent and inferior to himself. A sinister fact to the ever-thickening plotline reports this:

And, the best part was that the system was booby-trapped so that routine system maintenance would trigger the destruction of sensitive city records. Child’s hands would be clean—so to speak.

Terry Childs’ past is full of potholes, he has spent time in jail for aggravated robber and was arrested for assault. When searching his home in Pittsburgh, Police found ammunition that he was not authorized to have. It has puzzled both news media and myself why a background check did not discover Childs’ troubled past.

Childs currently sits in prison awaiting a hearing on September 24th.

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Posted by on July 29, 2008 in Security


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