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Sorting out the facts in the Terry Childs case

Sorting out the facts in the Terry Childs case

San Francisco's network-abuse claims raise more questions than answers

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.

Common practices portrayed as nefarious. The documents filed by the city in opposition to Childs' bail reduction contained many vague references and claims of nefarious actions. But to those with experience in network administration, these activities seem like common practice.

For example, the documents portrayed the fact that Childs had configured some number of routers to disable password recovery as a subversive action, when it's common to use that function to secure routers and switches that cannot be physically secured.

They also stated that Childs had several modems in his workspace, hooked up to computers, and that Childs used these modems to access the network remotely without logging or auditing. It seems much more likely, however, that they were used as dialup/dial-back access for Childs to perform emergency work during off-hours.

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