Dirty IT job No. 1: Espionage engineer
Wanted: Network sleuth willing to secretly read employee e-mail, shadow coworkers across the Web, and unmask corporate spies; ability to keep secrets a must.
Work in IT long enough, and one day you may be asked to monitor your fellow employees' e-mail, scan their browser histories, or rifle their hard drives looking for evidence they've broken the rules. It's just a fact of doing business, says Roger A. Grimes, a senior security consultant and proprietor of InfoWorld's Security Adviser blog.
"I'd say it happens in 100 percent of large and midsize organizations, less often in smaller ones," he contends. He estimates that half the time employees who are investigated ended up being fired. Only about one in four prove innocent.
The biggest single issue Grimes is asked to investigate? Sex between two employees. "That accounts for 50 to 75 percent of the requests," he says. No. 2 on the list is corporate espionage, usually in the form of soon-to-be-former employees absconding with proprietary company data.
At one company, Grimes discovered that nearly half of the network Web traffic was porn-related. When he informed the CEO, he was gently dissuaded. "'We don't want to be the Internet police,' he told me."
Grimes immediately looked at the CEO's hard drive, where he found a generously endowed cache of gay porn, as well as evidence the executive had booked a session with a male prostitute on a business trip to Miami. At the time, the CEO was days away from getting married.
Two weeks later, the CEO called him into his office. "He said a couple of teenage boys had broken into his home and surfed gay porn on his computer, and now he wanted to know how to get rid of what they left behind," Grimes said.
Shouldn't the chief executive call the police? Grimes asked. No. He just wanted to know how to clear his cache. A few weeks later, the marriage was officially over.
The CEO was hardly the only one in that company caught with his hands in the, umm, cookie jar.
"I could prove a large percentage of senior management did no actual work at all," says Grimes. "These guys were making several hundred thousands dollars a year, and all they did all day long was surf porn."
But being an IT spy is not all fun and games. Grimes says he's been approached by spouses of executives seeking evidence their significant other had been cheating. He has to tell them no, he can't legally do that. Over the years he's also investigated dozens of employees charged with viewing child pornography at work.
"I try hard to not find images on people's computers," he adds. "There are some things you simply can't unsee. It's an emotionally difficult thing to be involved with."
Sometimes, however, it's hard to avoid.
"One time I was asked to clean off the computer of an executive who was leaving the company," says Grimes. "She was in her sixties, with gray hair. Going through her hard drive I found pictures of her in leather bondage with another executive at the same company. I just deleted them. But I never could look at her the same way after that."