SF Mayor Gets Hacker's Password in Jailhouse Visit

In jailhouse visit, alleged hacker reveals password to SF mayor Gavin Newsom.

ByABC News
July 23, 2008, 9:54 AM

July 23, 2008— -- After a weeklong standoff with a city employee accused of hacking into San Francisco's government computer system, Mayor Gavin Newsom gained the suspect's password after a rare jailhouse visit, according to authorities.

Newsom apparently made a secret jailhouse visit to Terry Childs, 43, who 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 and held on $5 million bail, Childs initially refused to reveal the password that would give full access to the network back to city employees, city officials said. But that changed when Newsom agreed to meet Childs on Monday.

The mayor "figured it was worth a shot, because although Childs is not a Boy Scout, he's not Al Capone either," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The meeting was apparently arranged without the district attorney's knowledge. Several calls to the DA's office were not returned.

Childs, an employee of the city's Department of Technology, pleaded not guilty in court last week to 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 former 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.

"The mayor gave us the codes [late Monday] and he indicated that he got them directly from the source," Ron Vinson, deputy director of the city's department of technology, told ABCNews.com.

According to Vinson, the first set of codes were not accurate, but a second call from the defendant's lawyer produced the correct codes, Vinson said.

"We applaud the mayor for getting this," he said. "It saves a lot of time and taxpayer dollars and he was the only one he could get it."

The department is currently looking at ways to make sure this doesn't happen again, Vinson said.

Newsom told reporters last week that Childs was a "rogue employee that got a bit maniacal and full of himself."