SF 'Network Hijacker' Has Bail Plea Rejected

despite divulging the passwords

Childs' bail hearing played before a packed house of journalists in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday morning. Judge Lucy McCabe heard truncated arguments from prosecutor Conrad Del Rosario and Child's appointed lawyer, Erin Crane, based on motions filed earlier, before denying Crane's motion for bail to be reduced.

Childs, 43, was arrested June 13 and charged with four felony counts of computer network tampering and a fifth count of causing losses in excess of $200,000 as a result of the alleged network tampering. He plead not guilty to those charges on June 17.

Until Monday's meeting with Newsom, Childs had refused to divulge passwords necessary to access the city network equipment configurations he managed, according to authorities, effectively "locking out" his superiors at San Francisco's Department of Technology (DOT), formerly known as the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS).

The hearing, while brief, was not without fireworks.

Sponsored post

Crane called the case against her client "a travesty" and the countermotion by the prosecution to deny the lowering of Childs' bail "spurious."

"Mr. Childs should not be in court today. ...None of us should be here in court today. This should have been a DTIS employee management problem. This man's performance at work was so competent and professional that he made his co-workers look bad. They tried to get rid of him," Crane said.

After failing to "get rid of him," Crane claimed that DOT "security people arguably filed false police reports, a crime in and of itself."

"They did all this with utter disregard for Mr. Childs' civil rights, with utter disregard for what this was costing the city and utter disregard for the continuing integrity of the computer system, which is the very reason for their existence," she said.

Crane did not spare San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, whom she accused of prosecuting the case "because it's politically expedient."

The attorney asked that the court release Childs on his own recognizance because he had divulged the requested passwords, and with new passwords set he was not a threat to access the City's computer network.

Del Rosario presented what he called an issue "that surfaced last night," the discovery that Childs "maliciously" configured four key network devices in such a way that a city or network power outage would "completely devastate" the City's FiberWAN network. The prosecutor called it "very suspicious" that Childs allegedly knew about a scheduled July 19 outage yet didn't divulge the passwords to Newsom to access the devices until after that date.

"That was a recent development that many of the experts working with ... the DTIS had only learned last night, that the configurations the defendant had set up this way, and that there's actual logs and records indicating that the defendant had actually backed up these devices and configured them maliciously. ... And this indicates the intentional intent to disrupt the entire FiberWAN network this way," Del Rosario told the judge.

Left unanswered was whether the July 19 power outage did in fact "completely devastate" the FiberWAN network. One former DOT executive attending the hearing said he hadn't heard of any such network disruption.

"First of all, 'locked out' does not mean 'denial of service.' As far as I know, I have not heard a single word in court today or yesterday or through the media that there have been any denial of services. I'm not hearing that there has been any downtime at all," said Dana Hom, speaking to reporters following the hearing.

Hom served as chief operations officer at the DOT from 2000 to 2004. He said he met with Childs in jail Saturday.

A spokesperson for the DOT, deputy chief Ron Vinson, told ChannelWeb Friday that "we have not seen any downtime" on the City's FiberWAN network. Vinson had not returned calls at press time to answer questions about Saturday's scheduled power outage and its effect, if any, on the network.

Del Rosario further raised the possibility to the court that other government networks Childs worked on might be compromised, describing "a whole series of networks in multiple departments" with "1100 network devices that we don't know if he has control of."

"It's not limited to the FiberWAN network. ...The Sherriff's Department is currently locked out of their system, because he worked on their system, as well as the Department of Parks and Recreation, their voice IP system is currently locked out," the prosecutor said.

While Del Rosario presented Childs as the cause of system lockouts at those departments "because he worked on" those systems, it wasn't clear whether those were recent developments or had been an ongoing state of affairs for some time.

"We don't know if he installed new passwords to lock out any other users," the prosecutor said.

Part of Crane's characterization of the negative work environment Childs worked in was her claim that his co-workers "went so far as to hire private investigators to dig up dirt on him." Del Rosario countered by saying such actions were taken to do a background check on Childs, who the prosecutor claimed had "lied on his work application," omitting felony convictions for aggravated robbery and burglary in Kansas, for which he served prison time. Crane noted that those crimes were committed when Childs was 16 years old, though he was tried as an adult.

Both attorneys said they were reluctant to go deeply into the complex, technical details of computer network administration at the hearing. Del Rosario at one point cited "what's referred to as RAM memory" when discussing Childs' alleged practice of not backing up device configurations permanently on hard drives. Crane described the motions as "quite lengthy and technical" and said she wouldn't be able to respond to the prosecution's countermotion "point by point" in the setting.

But if the details were technologically dense, the appeal of the high-profile case to media and even the judge herself was evident at the jam-packed Superior Court session. Prior to the 9am opening of the calendar of bail hearings, McCabe joked with Del Rosario about him giving her "the codes" recently divulged by Childs to Newsom.

"Can I have the codes? Gavin going to the jail to get the codes, it's like 'Raiders of the Lost Ark," McCabe was overheard saying in pre-hearing conversation with Del Rosario.

The Newsom angle had tongues wagging in the media pool and beyond. The fact that Childs went to Newsom rather than Harris was of interest because the mayor and district attorney have reportedly had a fractious relationship in the past. Newsom was a no-show at Harris' press conference to announce the arrest of Childs, despite being asked to attend.

"They're both young, aggressive people," said former San Francisco District Attorney Terrence Hallinan of reported friction between Newsom and Harris. Hallinan, contacted by ChannelWeb to discuss the political implications of Newsom's jailhouse meeting with Childs. called it "interesting" that Childs and Crane decided "to make Gavin the hero" instead of Harris, by giving the mayor the passwords.

But Hallinan, who now has a private law practice, also noted that Newsom, as the City's top-ranking administrator, was also Childs' top boss. He said there was "a certain logic" to giving Newsom the network access information, because Childs had originally been asked to divulge them to his supervisors, not police or the District Attorney.

Following the hearing, Crane was peppered with questions about the mayor's meeting with Childs, but declined to say anything beyond expressing disappointment at the outcome.

"We're obviously disappointed bail has not been lowered. The first thing defense counsel tries to do in a criminal case is get the client out to assist in the defense. Particularly in a case like this where the facts are very complicated, you want the person out so they can help you prepare, and the person is severely disadvantaged by not being released. So at this point we'll just prepare for trial as best we can," she said.