Over the years there have been a plethora of stories about disgruntled computer geeks causing havoc with computer systems. Terry Childs is one such guy, but he has taken it to a whole new level. While I doubt this will do much for his future employability, it certainly is amusing.

San Francisco has recently consolidated a number of city functions under one  multi million dollar computer complex. Functions include officials’ e-mails, city payroll files, confidential law enforcement documents and jail inmates’ bookings.

Terry was upset with San Fran, and there is no doubt that his bosses at San Fran were upset with him, even going so far as to try and fire him, which they were unsuccessful at. Terry’s solution was to disable all of the administrative passwords for the complex, effectively leaving the city with no control over their information.

Only Terry knows the magic password, and even though he is cooling his heels in jail on a $5 million bail, he is not giving up the secret. Meanwhile San Fran are using every resource they can lay their hands on to try and hack into their own system. Cracking passwords used to be an easy deal, 10 lines of code, and given enough time you can sledgehammer the password. Of course this rapidly became a big issue, and todays security model is a lot more complex, the Operating System knows when it is being fiddled with and shuts down the account in no time flat!

Even worse, city officials are worried that Terry might have an accomplice who can cause even more damage, or that Terry may have some electronic means to instigate the havoc. Personally I think they are missing the obvious, a time bomb. If Terry does not log in for a specific time period, then the destruction begins.

This should be a fun story to watch unfold, and a story that every organization should ponder.

Simon Barrett


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