Sorting Facts from Fiction in the Terry Childs Case

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Where San Francisco Seems to Have Made Dubious Claims

Once Childs was arrested, the claims against him began to mushroom. Many don't hold up to scrutiny.

Exaggerated Claims of Jeopardized Systems

The city's legal justification for the arrest was the fact that Childs refused to give the passwords to DTIS officials, which effectively locked them out of administering their own network. But in the press reports that soon surfaced, statements ascribed to city officials made it appear that some or all of the data on the network was in jeopardy, including e-mail, 311 service (the one-stop phone number for residents to get help on city services), and law-enforcement applications. But these services do not appear to have ever been jeopardized. And Childs' influence over this network did not appear to extend to these services, only to the network itself.

Also during the bail motion proceedings, the city provided new documents that it claimed showed Childs was a threat to others and the city network. To back up these claims, the city offered evidence collected from Childs' computers, including a document labeled Exhibit A, which was an unredacted list of 150 VPN groupnames and passwords.

Access to VPN Data Portrayed as Malicious

The portrayal of the VPN information suggested that Childs should not have had this documentation, even though he was the city's lead network admin and apparently had to maintain these lists as part of his job. But entering the VPN information into the court records made them public -- the San Francisco district attorney's office committed a significant security breach, opening up VPN access to anyone who cared to look at the document. Although the passwords alone were not enough to provide complete access to the city networks, they did constitute one part of the VPN's two-phase authentication configuration.

Nearly two days after the DA's office divulged these passwords to the public, DTIS changed all the passwords, locking everyone out of the city VPN services until they had reconfigured their client to the new passwords. Ironically, this was the first time the city network failed since Childs' arrest.

Contradictions over FiberWAN Device Access

Also, until these court filings on the bail issue, the city had claimed it could not access the FiberWAN network's devices. But four days before that bail hearing, the city claimed it had scheduled a power outage at the 1 Market Street datacenter. That power outage would have affected routers and switches running the FiberWAN network. In the court filing four days later, the city contended that Childs had "booby-trapped" the network to collapse during this power outage by not writing the device configurations to flash on some number of routers. A local news report stated that "experts caught the problem in time and transferred data to permanent files, [Assistant DA Conrad] del Rosario said."

This statement contradicts the city's stance that it had no access to these routers, as there is no way it could have written those configurations to flash, or save them anywhere, on July 19 if it could not access the devices. By the city's own admission, it did not have that access until after midnight on July 21, two days after this shutdown was scheduled.

Other news reports have stated that the city cancelled the shutdown when it learned that the network had been "booby-trapped." But again, without the passwords, the city could not have known the state of those routers, nor could it have known whether the configurations were saved to flash memory.

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