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Irate sysadmin locks San Francisco officials out of network

City 'doing everything necessary'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Hapless municipal bosses in San Francisco have been locked out of their network by a disgruntled sysadmin charged with computer sabotage.

Terry Childs, 43 and of Pittsburg, California, was held on remand over the weekend pending the outcome of committal proceedings (an arraignment) on Tuesday where he faces four counts of computer tampering. Meanwhile his former bosses were unable to access San Francisco's new multimillion-dollar FiberWAN (Wide Area Network). The network provides access to confidential databases including payroll files and law enforcement documents.

Childs allegedly created a password that gave him exclusive access to the system. Pass codes he gave to police failed to work. Even under threat of arrest Childs failed to cough up the goods, prompting officers to take him into custody on Sunday.

The sysadmin, who draws a basic salary of around $126,000, has worked for the Department of Technology for around five years. Childs was recently the target of disciplinary action over his allegedly poor performance at work. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes anonymous city officials in support of a theory that Childs rigged the system as an "insurance policy" against getting fired.

At a press conference on Monday, city officials said they were making progress in regaining control of the system, which is up and running but inaccessible. Investigators reckon Child started making changes to the system around a month ago on 20 June. They claim that undoing the damage he allegedly caused via the denial of service attack could cost "millions" of dollars. Even taking into account lost productivity this estimates seems high and probably represent an attempt to up the ante in the prosecution of Childs in the hope that he'll back down when faced by the prospect of more serious charges.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports city officials' fear that Childs may have an accomplice capable of further damaging the system even as Childs cools his heels in jail. So far police have found nothing to back up a theory that some type of electronic device might feature in such a putative attack. Childs' bail has been set at $5m, The Mercury News adds.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, said he was "confident that [the Department of Technology] is doing everything necessary to maintain the integrity of the city's computer networks." [Ed: where's Dirty Harry when you need him?]

Ron Vinson, chief administrative officer for the Department of Technology, said city officials were "working around the clock" to restore access. Ironically, Childs received an additional salary payment of $22,534 last year for serving as an on-call trouble shooter, The San Francisco Chronicle adds. ®

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