Computer specialist locks city out

A network administrator for San Francisco’s internal fiber optic network who appeared in court Tuesday was a “rogue employee” who became so “full of himself” that he locked every city employee out of the recently installed system, Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

Terry Childs, 43, changed the passwords so all city employees were locked out of the system except himself, Newsom said Tuesday. A “redundant system” is currently working in place of the FiberWAN network.

Technology experts have been working to crack a series of codes in the system. One was deciphered Monday evening, but the work has been slow because there may be “booby traps,” Newsom said.

Childs, a heavy-set man with graying blond hair and a mustache, had acted out sporadically in the last year and made threats at his job at the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, according to city officials. But he was also respected for his technical knowledge.

That knowledge remains his bargaining chip. Authorities have asked him to provide the password required to restore access to the network. Officials have even called on his friends and family to convince Childs to cooperate.

Childs’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Mark Jacobs, called Childs a good man involved in an “odd case.” He said outside court that he had yet to go through the evidence and was surprised at the $5 million bail.

“I don’t know why it’s so high,” Jacobs said. “There’s somebody out there that’s really scared about something.”

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office is weighing whether it can represent Childs, who was paid about $126,000 a year by The City. Chief Attorney Teresa Caffese said the relationship between the office and the DTIS might lead to a conflict in the case.

San Francisco prosecutors have charged Childs, who was arrested at his Pittsburg home Sunday, with four felony counts of computer network tampering. The District Attorney’s Office is also seeking more than $200,000 in damages, which would help pay an outside contractor to comb through the network and eliminate any trace of Childs’ alleged tampering.

If convicted, Childs could face up to seven years in state prison. He returns to court Thursday at 9 a.m.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com  

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