A disgruntled network administrator pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of computer tampering for allegedly setting up an unauthorised access system and holding much of the city of San Francisco's computer network hostage
Terry Childs, 43, entered the plea before Judge Paul Alvarado in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday morning. His next court appearance is a bail hearing set for 23 July.
Administrators have been struggling for the past few weeks to regain control of the city's Fibre WAN (wide area network) after Childs allegedly reset administrative passwords to its switches and routers, and refused to hand them over. He is also alleged to have planted unauthorised devices on the city's network.
As of Thursday, the city has still not recovered administrative control of its routers, but the WAN network is still operating normally, said Ron Vinson, chief administrative officer with the city's Department of Telecommunication Information Services (DTIS). He said it was hard to predict when the problem would be fixed and that it could take days or weeks to resolve the situation. "We feel very confident that we will have full access," he said.
This network, used to connect computers between buildings throughout the city, carries about 60 percent of the network traffic of San Francisco's city government. It has continued to function normally, but without administrative access the city can no longer make important security and configuration changes to the hardware.
Childs is a network administrator with the DTIS, which runs the city's critical IT operations, including the email system, website, 311 call centre and telecommunications infrastructure.
He became erratic and then hostile with colleagues after a recent security audit uncovered his activity on the network, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Childs was sombre and respectful in his brief court appearance Thursday, as he stood before the judge handcuffed from behind and clad in the orange sweatsuit worn by those housed at the San Francisco County Jail.
He had a supporter in the courtroom. Dana Hom, who until 2004 was a director at DTIS, told reporters at the courthouse that he is a "casual friend" of Childs, who, he says, should have been placed on administrative leave and investigated - not arrested - for the incident, which Hom blamed on "poor, poor management" within the department.
"I have seen what I thought was the worst, but this takes the cake," said Hom, who now runs a PC repair company in Windsor, California. "I'm here because I see a travesty of justice."
Hom described Childs as "very gentle" and "one of the most competent IT engineers ever."
Hom, who interviewed Childs before he was hired, said in a later telephone conversation with IDG News Service that as network administrator, Childs was entitled to have the passwords to the WAN's switches and routers. He was probably unable to notify management of any password changes because customised change-management software built to track this type of data "has been broken for years," Hom said.