City officials accused Department of Technology employee Terry Childs of taking over the new FiberWAN (Wide Area Network) by creating a secret password for his own use. The multi-million-dollar computer network stores records such as officials' e-mails, city payroll files, confidential law enforcement documents and jail bookings.
"It's actually the routers under control of this guy," CNET-TV's Tom Merritt explained, as he showed CBS News correspondent John Blackstone the network equipment at the center of the firestorm. "He could go in and change passwords and block traffic and shut all of this stuff for the city of San Francisco down if he wanted to."
Childs, 43, was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday. He was arrested Sunday and held on suspicion of four counts of computer tampering. He did not enter a plea at a court appearance Tuesday.
His public defender, Mark Jacobs, described the bail amount as crazy and suggested the charges resulted from a misunderstanding.
"I don't think he's a threat," Jacobs said. "He didn't kill anybody, and murderers usually get a $1 million bail, so you do the math."
"Think about it in terms of having a safe deposit box at a bank," said San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, "you want to know that you are the only person to have access to that."
"The reality is that we have institutions and systems that have been created with the assumption they will have integrity, that they will be safe and they will not be compromised," Harris told CBS News'The Early Show.
The city says fixing the system and determining whether the alleged tampering led to a security breach could cost millions of dollars. Officials say the exact damage is still being assessed.
Blackstone reports that, so far, everything seems to be running normally. But without the password, it could take the city six to eight weeks to rebuild the entire system.
Prosecutors have not given a motive, but police investigators say Childs recently had been disciplined at work.
"The San Francisco police department has done a fabulous, amazing job in conducting the investigation in this case," Harris said. "They were on it from the beginning. And it's still a work in progress in terms of uncovering and figuring out exactly the expanse of this fellow's work."
If convicted, Harris says that Childs could face seven years in state prison.