Conviction Upheld For City Worker Who Locked SF Out Of Its Own Computer System

The computer-disruption conviction of a former San Francisco city network engineer who locked all other officials out of the system for 12 days in 2008 was upheld by a state appeals court today.

Terry Childs, 49, of Pittsburg, was convicted in San Francisco Superior Court in 2010 of disrupting or denying computer services to an authorized user.

He was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay $1,485,790 in restitution for the city’s costs in regaining control of the network and safeguarding against possible security threats posed by Childs’ actions.

A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco unanimously upheld the conviction and the restitution order.

Childs, who had been jailed since his arrest on July 12, 2008, was released in 2011 after receiving credit for time served and good behavior in prison.

Childs was the lead engineer for the city’s then-new fiber-optics wide-area network, known as FiberWAN, between 2005 and 2008. At the time of the lockout, the system handled about 60 percent of the city’s computer traffic.

Over a period of months, he had gradually assumed sole control of the system so that he was the only person who held its password or had access to password recovery systems.

The lockout came about after Childs’ supervisors told him on July 9, 2008, that he was being reassigned.

According to testimony at the four-month trial, the supervisors had become concerned that Childs allowed no one else to know the password, had clashed with them and had failed to disclose fully previous out-of-state convictions of burglary and theft.

At the July 9 meeting and for 12 days thereafter, Childs refused to give up the password. He finally agreed to disclose it after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom visited him in his jail cell.

The password he gave the mayor initially didn’t work, and Newsom testified at Childs’ trial that he was furious when he learned that.

But over the next few hours, Childs’ lawyer provided two installments of configuration instructions that, together with the password, finally enabled technology managers to get back into the system.

The city’s computer service was not disabled during the standoff. But Childs had configured the system so that it would collapse if the power were shut off or would erase all the data if another person attempted to enter it to set a new password. City computer technologists were also unable to extend the service to other new departments or check on its integrity during the lockout.

Childs claimed in his defense that he was concerned about the security of the system.

His attorney in the appeal could not be reached for comment.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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