SF mayor hacks hacker, gets password

Newsom apparently made a secret jailhouse visit to Terry Childs, 43, who is charged with hacking the city's computer system and creating a secret password that gave him virtually exclusive access to most of the city's municipal data.

While in jail and held on $5 million bail, Childs initially refused to reveal the password that would give full access to the network back to city employees, city officials said. But that changed when Newsom agreed to meet Childs on Monday.

The mayor "figured it was worth a shot, because although Childs is not a Boy Scout, he's not Al Capone either," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The meeting was apparently arranged without the district attorney's knowledge. Several calls to the DA's office were not returned.

Childs, an employee of the city's Department of Technology, pleaded not guilty in court last week to four counts of computer network tampering.

"He was able to prevent other authorized users from being able to access the system, and at same time, put in place devices that gave him access to areas of the network which he was not authorized to access," said Erica Derryck, spokeswoman for the San Francisco district attorney's office.

Childs worked as a network administrator for five years and was instrumental in designing the router system for the city's FiberWAN (wide-area network), according to his former lawyer, public defender Mark Jacobs.

The network on which he worked reportedly stored 60 percent of all municipal data, including the city's 311 system, employee e-mail and law enforcement records.

"The mayor gave us the codes [late Monday] and he indicated that he got them directly from the source," Ron Vinson, deputy director of the city's department of technology, told ABCNews.com.

According to Vinson, the first set of codes were not accurate, but a second call from the defendant's lawyer produced the correct codes, Vinson said.

"We applaud the mayor for getting this," he said. "It saves a lot of time and taxpayer dollars and he was the only one he could get it."

The department is currently looking at ways to make sure this doesn't happen again, Vinson said.

Newsom told reporters last week that Childs was a "rogue employee that got a bit maniacal and full of himself."

"There's nothing to be alarmed about, save the inability to get into the system and tweak the system," Newsom said. "Nothing dramatic has changed in terms of our ability to govern the city."

Jacobs said it was "important to follow the mayor's lead and recognize that business is going on as usual. There is no problem with the system; no tampering with the system; no hijacking of the system. There is an accusation that he locked everyone out, but things seem to be running fine."

Jacobs added there was no indication that any information had been stolen or compromised.

He chalked up the arrest to a "misunderstanding between [Childs] and a supervisor that does not affect anything."

Prosecutors would not release the full criminal complaint to the public, nor would they disclose what they believe was Childs' motive for creating a password that would block other administrators from accessing the network.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Childs allegedly had a dispute with his boss that led him to hack the system.

According to the Chronicle, Childs was ordered to leave work July 9 for alleged insubordination. While in jail, he remains on the city payroll, reportedly earning $127,735 a year.

Childs was convicted of aggravated robbery and burglary in 1982, the Chronicle also reported.

Last week, Jacobs called his former client's $5 million bail "ridiculous and uncalled for."

"Murderers get $1 million bail and this guy didn't kill anyone. It doesn't make any sense," he said.

Derryck defended the high bail and said Childs' alleged actions constituted a "threat to public safety, and that bail was appropriate."

Despite Jacobs's defense of Childs in the media, the public defender's boss told ABCNews.com that its office would stop defending the network technician.

"Our office is declaring a conflict of interest. At the hearing, the court will appoint a private attorney," said Teresa Caffese, the chief attorney for the San Francisco Public Defender.

"We're part of the city and county of San Francisco, and we believe there may be a conflict," she said.

According to media reports, Childs' new attorney, Erin Crane, arranged the meeting between her client and the mayor. More technology news | Houston blogs | Houston headlines on Twitter | RSS feeds

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