Hacker Holds Key to City's Network

Alleged hacker won't reveal secret password to unlock San Francisco's network.

ByABC News
July 16, 2008, 5:16 PM

July 17, 2008— -- A San Francisco municipal employee is charged with hacking the city's computer system and creating a secret password that gave him virtually exclusive access to most of the city's municipal data.

While in jail, held on $5 million bail, he still has refused to reveal the password that would give full access to the network back to city employees, city officials say.

Terry Childs, 43, will plead not guilty in court today, his lawyer told ABCNews.com.

Childs, an employee of the city's Department of Technology, was arrested Sunday and charged with four counts of computer network tampering.

"He was able to prevent other authorized users from being able to access the system, and at same time, put in place devices that gave him access to areas of the network which he was not authorized to access," said Erica Derryck, spokeswoman for the San Francisco district attorney's office.

Childs worked as a network administrator for five years and was instrumental in designing the router system for the city's FiberWAN (wide-area network), according to his lawyer, public defender Mark Jacobs.

The network on which he worked reportedly stored 60 percent of all municipal data, including the city's 311 system, employee e-mail and law enforcement records.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told reporters Tuesday that Childs was a "rogue employee that got a bit maniacal and full of himself.

"There's nothing to be alarmed about, save the inability to get into the system and tweak the system," Newsom said. "Nothing dramatic has changed in terms of our ability to govern the city."

Jacobs said it was "important to follow the mayor's lead and recognize that business is going on as usual. There is no problem with the system; no tampering with the system; no hijacking of the system. There is an accusation that he locked everyone out, but things seem to be running fine."

Jacobs added there was no indication that any information had been stolen or compromised.

He chalked up the arrest to a "misunderstanding between [Childs] and a supervisor that does not affect anything."

Prosecutors would not release the full criminal complaint to the public, nor would they disclose what they believe was Childs' motive for creating a password that would block other administrators from accessing the network.