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Vulnerabilities / Threats

San Francisco Computer Tech Set Booby Trap In City Network

Prosecutors say Childs set the network to delete numerous files during a scheduled maintenance of the system.

A computer technician accused of hijacking San Francisco's network built a booby trap that was set to delete numerous files during a scheduled maintenance of the system, prosecutors say.

The alleged plot of Terry Childs, 43, was discovered last Saturday before the system was taken down for maintenance, prosecutors said in court documents filed Wednesday and obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. The computer network stores 60% of the city's documents, including payroll records, e-mail, and law enforcement documents.

Childs has been held on $5 million bail since his arrest July 13 on four felony counts of computer tampering. He is accused of locking out system administrators and his supervisors from the network by setting up a password that only he knew. Childs handed over the password on Monday to Mayor Gavin Newsom, making it possible for the city's technology department to regain control of the system.

In arguing against lowering Childs' bail, prosecutors claimed he set up more than 1,000 modems in locked cabinets that made it possible for him to alter the system without his supervisors knowing, the newspaper said.

"He had a malicious intent to destroy the entire network," prosecutor Conrad del Rosario said, according to the Chronicle.

Childs' lawyer, Erin Crane, told the newspaper that the allegations were "spurious" and her client was a victim of his bosses' resentment over his expertise. "When they couldn't get rid of him," they portrayed him as a "rogue employee" out to terrorize the city, Crane said.

After a Superior Court hearing on Wednesday, Judge Lucy Kelly McCabe denied the request to lower bail. Childs is to remain in jail pending a Sept. 24 hearing.

In arguing against lowering Childs' bail, prosecutors said that without knowing where Childs hid all the modems, there was no certainty that he couldn't gain access to the system and create more trouble. They also claimed he would be a flight risk.

Childs' troubles with the technology department started to snowball June 20 when he followed and took photographs of the agency's new head of security after she began an audit of who had password access to the system, authorities said. Childs' frightening behavior prompted the woman to lock herself in an office.

His supervisors' concerns grew when they discovered he had given himself exclusive access to the system and had developed a way to spy on his bosses' e-mails related to his conduct. Childs was ordered to leave work July 9 for alleged insubordination.

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