When IT Goes Bad...Or Good...Or Too Good....

The big story, at least in security, last week was the plight of San Francisco city workers who were frantically trying to regain access to the city's network after the only network admin with access refused to reveal his passwords and was jailed. With the dust beginning to settle, the picture is starting to clear up a bit.

Taken only from sensational press accounts, one could easily get the impression that Terry Childs was a rogue administrator who decided to take revenge and lock down the city. From the picture painted by the prosecution and city officials, Childs was considered a "threat to public safety" and had "unauthorized access" to — drumroll please — the very network the city paid him nearly $150,000 a year to build and administer. His bail was set at $5 million because city officials — who apparently had no clue who Childs was or what he was being employed to do — feared he would purge the city's entire data system — despite reportedly not having access to anything but the network itself.

According to an unidentified inside source interviewed by InfoWorld.com, reality is much more mundane — albeit quite interesting in its own right. Apparently, Childs was a top-level network administrator, with the highest credentials offered by Cisco, who was married to his job and raised the city's FiberWAN network like his child. For months, possibly years, the city — at least the IT staff and their managers — was aware that Childs was the only one with access to the network — and that was apparently just fine with everyone. Even the city's network architect had deferred to Childs when it came to actual deployment, and during his tenure — which included permanent on-call status 24/7/365 — everything ran smoothly. Indeed, even as Childs sat in jail and the city worked frantically to regain control, the network chugged on without so much as a hiccup.

So, why is Terry Childs in jail and the city locked out? If InfoWorld's source is to be believed, it's a case of kidnapping — the city tried to kidnap Childs's baby, and he wouldn't let them have it. Like many who are deeply involved with projects they've built from the ground up, Terry Childs didn't trust anyone with access to his network, because they didn't know it, didn't understand it. When city officials demanded he open things up to "inferior" admins he felt would damage his baby, Childs chose to let the police take him down, rather than let inferiors take his network down. Only time will tell, but one suspects that as soon as they manage to break their way in, the whole thing will come crashing down and prove Terry Childs knew just what he was talking about.

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