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Computer Engineer to stand trial for hacking San Francisco December 27, 2008

Posted by jefhenningeresq in News.
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I have been studying computer crime for about 18 years in one way or the other.  This is the type of case that I talked about many years ago that other people couldn’t even imagine.  I don’t even think it was anything that special.  Others who really studied computer crime and/or technology made the same type of predictions.  However, most people in the early to mid 90’s didn’t even have a computer in their house, so it was hard for them to understand these types of scenarios.

Terry Childs created and ran FiberWAN which networks the computers of San Francisco and handles 60 percent of the city’s information.   He is accused of locking out his bosses from the system and setting up the network to fail during a scheduled shutdown.  The City alleges that they had to spend over a million dollars to fix and assess the vulnerability of the network.  He remains in jail with a $5 million dollar bail.

This is an amazing case for so many reasons.  First, he gave the correct passwords after being in jail for 8 days….to Mayor Gavin Newsom!  I guess the Mayor is a witness now.  Also, the trial would have to be moved.  How could he possibly get a fair trial in that city?

More importantly, how does either side take this case to trial?  Issue one is motive.  How are you going to ask the jury to convict this guy?  What did he really do here?  Was anyone actually harmed or put at risk or is this a civil issue?  He has no criminal record and no motive.  The amount of witnesses and the complex and technical testimony will be tough for the Prosecutor to handle.

I hope the defense realizes that Childs has to be one of their best consultants/experts.  I refer to this type of client as an “expert client”.  He can and should testify (assuming there is no really damaging motive evidence I don’t know about).  He can help the lawyers explain everything about this network, what he did, why, etc.

The problem they have is that the Prosecutor will be out for blood because this case will be extremely political.  So the chances of getting a good deal will be slim at best.  On the other hand. Childs can help the lawyers know what to ask for in terms of discovery.  I am sure there is some sensitive information that the city will not want to part with.  The defense will need to find a reason for this information to be necessary (i.e. relevant) to their case.  This includes everything about the network, the information on it, internal policies, dirt on everyone involved, etc. 

In other words, the defense needs to make the Prosecutor wish they worked out a quiet, easy resolution to the case in the beginning.  It is the best strategy at this point for numerous reasons.  First, if you can scare the Prosecutor out of going to trial and work out a great deal for your client, you’ve won. 

Second, if that doesn’t work, you need to make the trial so drawn out and complex that the jury’s head will spin.  This will take the Prosecutor off message because they will be so busy defending everything else, that there will less time spent on the actual allegations against Childs.

His lawyers seem like they have a good idea as to where they are going.  I just hope they keep going in that direction .  The story indicates that they are making Childs out to be the only one that could save the city from his supervisors and fellow employees who would abuse the network.  That is a great theme but you better have the evidence to back it up!  

The reason I started studying computer crime all those years ago was because I not only knew there would be cases like this, but I knew that I could win them.  While I handle (and win) white collar crime and computer crime cases, there are only so many clients in Terry Child’s position.  While I’ve been waiting for many years, it seems like I won’t have to be waiting too much longer huh? 

Here is the story.

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