Terry Childs - Good or Evil SysAdmin?

Just some  thoughts on the Terry Childs situation and SysAdmins in general.  Terry Childs is the SysAdmin arrested on July 12, 2008 for disrupting San Francisco’s wide-area network and is currently sitting in the City of San Francisco’s county jail.

(1) Every good SysAdmin has to be a bit of "evil".  Many plot lines out there describe the good guy turning into a bad guy to learn how to defeat the evil organization.  Same concept applies to network security.  No one knows the flaws and holes better than the SysAdmin.  Thinking like a potential hacker, the SysAdmin can take a proactive approach to prevention and more effectively investigate suspicious behaviour.  That being said, what the SysAdmin does not know can be just as dangerous.

(2) One of the biggest "flaws" of the system in this case is that ONE person had the keys to the kingdom.  Having the keys is not a bad thing, but if you lose the keys you are really hosed.  Or what if the KeyMaster is not such a nice guy?

(3) Management oversight is a key component lacking in a lot of organizations.  Managers can be intimidated by the expertise of the SysAdmin and often do not care as long as everything works.  On the flip side, the SysAdmin does not like having to explain himself.  However regular meetings and discussions will improve communication skills and foster a good relationship.

(4) Organizations and companies spend big money on fault-tolerant systems, disaster recovery, and various contingency scenarios.  Often over looked is the knowledge of the employees.  Spending the cash on a second SysAdmin can pay dividends in many ways including customer service, after-hours coverage, knowledge sharing, etc.  Two brains, pair of eyes, set of hands, etc all help out.  A sense of comradeship can also be invaluable.

(5) As a SysAdmin, you sometimes have to sacrifice best practice and security for sanity and business process.  Obviously not YOUR sanity, but business sanity.  I can attest to the frustration caused by this.  All you can do is communicate & document the risks to the management.  Being paranoid about security is not a bad thing, but also apply that to your career and the business.

(6) A final thought from this case and the case against those wonderful Pirate Bay folks.  Lawmakers, Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys do not understand the finer points of technology.  As a community, we need to educate the populace and take a few minutes here and there to explain things.

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