What the Heck is Going On in San Francisco?

Everyone — or at least those with a penchant for the bizarre — will remember the strange and storied standoff that unfolded over the last several weeks between the San Francisco city government and allegedly "rogue" network administrator Terry Childs. We didn't really believe it could get much more absurd than it already had, but we were wrong, it has. Oh has it ever.

When we last left off, Childs was sitting in the city jail, refusing to turn over the passwords necessary for city officials to regain control of the city's FiberWAN network — a network engineered and built by Childs, and which he alone administered, with city approval, for "months if not years." City officials jumped headlong to a myriad of conclusions — which, from what we've read are of questionable basis — declaring Childs a "rogue employee" and inducing hysteria that the city's network had been "hijacked."

The "standoff" — as a frenzied media termed it — ended last week when Childs handed over the passwords to Mayor Gavin Newsom during a jailhouse meeting — passwords which a Cisco team working 24/7 for well over a week couldn't crack, a testament to Child's abilities. Prosecutors, however, went on painting Childs as attempting to bring the network down — something he could have done from the beginning if that was his goal — and branded emergency access and No Service Password Recovery systems as signs of a plan to wreak havoc on the network.

The biggest and most bizarre point in the show so far, however, happened at the end of last week, when the same brilliant litigators-cum-network security engineers filed, unsealed, a list of 150 usernames and their corresponding passwords with the Court as part of its opposition to reducing Childs' bail. Following Hanlon's razor, we can only assume these scholars of the law — and, of course, computing — hadn't gotten to the part of Computers 101 where you learn that passwords are supposed to be secret, not filed in public-record court papers for one of the most high-profile cases in the city. Perhaps once they've gotten that down, they might be ready for a lesson or two about how to secure a mission-critical network for the fourteenth largest city in the United States. That's a lesson that, by all appearances, Terry Childs is gearing up to give them — from the witness stand.

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