That said, it is clear that Childs managed to create an environment in which he was the only individual with administrative access to critical network devices. This is a good example of someone misusing the powerful credentials provided to an administrator, and an organization either not setting -- or not enforcing -- security policy that prevents this type of single-person control.
An enterprise should take two steps to ensure it doesn't fall victim to the same type of ransom attack that Childs perpetrated on San Francisco. To start, create an access policy and verify that administrators are following it. It's inexcusable for a system administrator to possess the only administrative password to any type of device and not have provisions to share it with others. What if Childs were incapacitated or otherwise unable to return to work?
There's one common practice I've seen in many enterprises, and it's fairly low-tech: administrators simply write the password on a piece of paper, seal it in an envelope, sign the back of the envelope and place it in a safe accessible to management. In the event of an emergency, management can retrieve the password from the safe. Administrative passwords are automatically changed after any such use. To ensure that administrators are following this policy, management periodically selects a random sample of systems, retrieves the passwords for them from the safe and attempts to log in to the server, confirming that the password is accurate.
This was first published in December 2008