SF Mayor Breaks Up IT Standoff

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-07-23 Print this article Print

Nine days after locking down the city's IT system, a disgruntled network administrator invites Mayor Newsom to his cell and gives him the access codes.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom demonstrated his negotiating prowess July 22 by breaking a nine-day-long standoff between an overly protective city network administrator and the city's attorney and IT department.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Newsom obtained the access codes to the city's IT system switches and routers after conferring with embattled network administrator Terry Childs, who has been in jail since July 13 on four felony counts of computer tampering in lieu of $5 million bail.

Childs, a certified Cisco Systems network administrator, changed access passwords for administrators above him because he claimed they were negligent about viruses and malware getting into the system. When he was threatened with suspension and loss of his job for insubordination, he locked down the system and kept the access codes to himself.

Childs was the chief designer of the system's FiberWAN (Fibre Channel-connected WAN), which contains about 60 percent of the city's sensitive HR, payroll and other personal data. The system has been running on virtual autopilot for the last 10 days while Department of Technology head Ron Vinson and others have been trying to regain access. Vinson declined to return numerous messages left on his office phone by eWEEK.

Childs, 43, a resident of Pittsburg, Calif., pleaded not guilty in court July 17 at his arraignment. He will have a bail hearing July 23 in hopes of lowering the $5 million bail levied by a judge last week.

He has worked for the city for five years and makes $127,000 per year.

Last week, the network administrator gave city officials what turned out to be incorrect passwords. On July 21, Childs' defense attorney, Erin Crane, approached the mayor's office about a secret meeting with Newsom, the Chronicle reported.

The visit was so hush-hush that Newsom did not tell District Attorney Kamala Harris or law enforcement officials he was going to do it, Newsom spokesperson Nathan Ballard told the Chronicle.

The city system also handles confidential law enforcement documents, inmates' bookings, payroll records, and departmental e-mail. Apparently, it has no backdoor access, even for highly authorized administrators.

Cisco engineers brought in by the city worked for days trying to break Childs' codes but with only minor success.

San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross have more details on how the standoff ended here.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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