Ex-San Francisco Network Engineer Convicted of Network Tampering

Terry Childs was jailed in 2008 after he refused to disclose passwords for the city's FiberWAN network, locking the city and co-workers out for 12 days.

by / April 28, 2010

Terry Childs, the ex-network administrator who refused to give up passwords to San Francisco's FiberWAN network -- locking the city out of its own system -- was found guilty of felony network tampering by a jury on Tuesday, April 27.

Childs' resolute denial to give his co-workers and city officials the network's passwords and cyber-keys during the summer 2008 left the network operational but without administrative control for 12 days. The city uses the network for functions that include payroll, e-mail, and law enforcement and jail documentation.

Childs reportedly faces up to five years in jail.

Mayor Gavin Newsom eventually convinced Childs to disclose the passwords when the two met during a jailhouse meeting.

The incident sparked debate and disagreement within the cyber-security community about the correct procedures for disclosing passwords. Childs claimed that he wasn't authorized to hand over the passwords to city officials because they weren't qualified to have them. One juror interviewed after Tuesday's verdict said Childs' rationale seemed "paranoid."

City officials said the incident became a criminal matter because Childs was denying administrative access to the city.

"On July 9, [2008], in a process to complete our change control and change management system, I requested of Mr. Childs the user [identifications] and passwords for several devices on the FiberWAN network," Chief Operations Officer Richard Robinson told Government Technology shortly after the incident. Childs refused to comply. The devices in question were different types of network routers and switches.

Childs made unauthorized and undocumented changes to the network, Robinson said. "The rest of the network engineering staff would not have the ability to continue to do any change control, any change management or any continued rollout of the FiberWAN," he said. "That being the case, it became a criminal issue because he was denying us administrative access to equipment that the city owned."

A 2008 Washington Post article reported that Childs "hijacked the system" under the user name "Maggot617" and that police found diagrams of San Francisco's network, $10,000 cash and bullets at Childs' home.