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Case Against Indicted IT Admin Looks Airtight. Too Airtight

Written by Evan Schuman
July 13th, 2011

Prosecutors in New York are painting a compelling picture of a veteran Gucci network administrator gone saboteur, making their case with a string of traced IP addresses and a bogus employee’s VPN token. The case, though, has huge issues, including defense suggestions of a co-worker frame.

The Gucci case, based on not-before-published court records and Secret Service interview notes, provides a rare look into the mechanisms of investigating a retail IT inside job, complete with reviewing logs and figuring out what conclusions to draw. And when the accusations include one network administrator trying to manipulate evidence to point to another IT person, unraveling legitimate and false clues to find the truth can be daunting.

On the one hand, we have a meticulously planned revenge plot of a soon-to-be-fired network admin, who the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said prepared a year in advance for the assault by creating a fictitious employee and giving him high-level network access. The alleged plot has the culprit then using a Yahoo.com E-mail account to contact IT five times to activate the VPN token and launch his attack. On the other hand, would someone who had served as the Gucci network administrator for nine years create such a nefarious account using his own account name and password? Would he then access the account and E-mail repeatedly from his home, making no attempt to hide his IP address? Does that sound like the work of an experienced security coder who presumably would know how easily those things are to trace and would also know how easily it would be to avoid?

The defense is suggesting that the fired network admin is being framed by a co-worker. That might sound like a stretch, but is it? What if former Gucci network admin Sam Chihlung Yin had created that E-mail account innocuously, to perhaps test network settings and how they would impact a new employee? That’s often done for many reasons. It would explain the lack of an attempt to hide his tracks in creating that account. What if a colleague knew of that E-mail account and the token and realized that those items would make the perfect frame, once Yin was fired?

But that rationale has holes, too, because it would require the co-worker to access the suspect’s home network. As the case stands now, neither scenario makes sense, although it does shed much light on how complicated and difficult such IT detective work can be. So prepare to curl up for a classic IT detective story.

Yin was indicted and accused of deleting several virtual servers, shutting down a storage area network (SAN) and deleting corporate mailboxes, a move that Gucci said cost the company “more than $200,000 in diminished productivity, restoration and remediation measures, and other expenses.” His defense team has filed documents saying that other Gucci employees had greater access than the accused and then went so far as to list 23 other Gucci employees who it says should be investigated. That theory suggests that other IT employees wanted to do Gucci harm and then used knowledge of Yin to make it look like the recently fired administrator was responsible.

“We challenge the assertion that the defendant alone had access to the system in question and suspect that the District Attorney’s Office knows who actually did have access to the targeted systems at the times of the alleged crimes,” wrote Yin attorney Matthew Mari. “He was one of at least two dozen persons who could have had access to the computers in question and the investigators either knew or should have known that the changes in the system after the defendant left Gucci would have made it impossible for him to gain entry into the system. They should have known that it was more likely that others could have entered the system and tried to frame the defendant.”

The list of others who had access to the system was comprehensive, with number 24 naming “all support staff.”

The defense motions, however, do not directly refute any of the material accusations of the Manhattan D.A. Indeed, the government’s case specifically alleges that Yin did not use his own VPN to access the Gucci main system—a Unix server called Godzilla—but instead used the VPN credentials he had earlier issued to non-existent employee John Bare.


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