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21 July 2008, 14:47

San Francisco network hijacker pleads not guilty

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The network administrator accused of hijacking the San Francisco city government's fibre-optic WAN network has entered a not guilty plea. The 43-year-old man was arrested on Sunday after apparently manipulating routers and switches on the city's communication network so that access required a specific master password – a password he is refusing to reveal. Due to concerns that the accused man could unleash further mischief if freed, bail was set at $5 million.

The FiberWAN network, which came into operation four years ago, carries around 60 per cent of the San Francisco city government's data traffic. Although the various city departments can still transfer data over the network, the Department of Telecommunication Information Services (DTIS) is currently unable to obtain administrator access to the network hardware. According to reports, replacing the affected components would cost at least $250,000. Specialists from Cisco Systems are on hand and are searching for a means to obtain access.

At a hearing at the San Francisco Superior Court, the network administrator, who has been on the payroll at the DTIS for several years, was yesterday – Thursday 17 July – charged with a total of four counts of computer tampering. He has, however, pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in jail. According to his lawyer, Erin Crane, he is ready to negotiate with law enforcement agencies. Crane described the bail amount as "ridiculously high", especially in view of the fact that the communications network has not been damaged and remains intact.

Crane describes her client as a "very well-respected computer engineer," who helped develop the city's network. She claims that the whole affair is a "big misunderstanding". blown out of all proportion by the media. And perhaps the motivations behind the drama really are that mundane. US media are quoting sources from the DTIS as reporting that there was personal animosity between the accused and the new head of security at the department. The next court hearing, at which the amount of bail will be renegotiated, is set for 23 July – next Wednesday.


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