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SF's rogue admin finally gets day in court

Just a flip-out over protocols, says defense

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Terry Childs finally went to court yesterday, as prosecutors accused him of being a rogue employee who locked the San Francisco city government out of its own computer network.

Childs' lawyers disputed this picture, saying he was a man who'd zealously guarded the network's security, and only flipped out because city officials hadn't followed security protocols.

Childs, 45, has been in prison since last July, after he was accused of setting a master password for the City's spanking new network and promptly locking the city out.

His trial, on a felony charge of denying computer access, began yesterday, with Childs appearing in court wearing prison orange. Computer tampering charges were thrown out earlier this year.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that prosecutor Conrad del Rosario said that when layoffs were mooted at the city's IT dept, Childs told a co-worker: "They can't screw with me. I've got the keys to the kingdom."

The kingdom in question was the FiberWAN network which he had built, and which held a treasure trove of info including police records and payroll. Childs allegedly swallowed the keys, only giving up his master password after he'd been sat in jail for a week.

Childs has remained in the lockup since, after bail was set at $5m.

Childs' defence lawyer, Richard Shikman, said the network had never been at risk. Rather, Childs was a zealous professional who simply wanted to secure the network against any intrusions - albeit to a slightly paranoid degree.

He added that Childs only refused to hand over the passwords because city officials asked him to repeat them over an unsecured telephone line.

He then "flipped out" after being threatened with prosecution, drove to Nevada, and was subsequently arrested at his home.

"All they had to do was ask him (for the passwords) in a secure and professional way, consistent with policy and standards," the Chronicle reports Shikman telling the jury. "He's not guilty of any crime."

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the jury struggled to keep their eyes open as they were hit with a deluge of tech talk, with one looking to the ceiling "as if to say, 'How much longer can this go on?'".

Quite a lot longer, is the answer. The trial is expected to last two months. ®

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