More stupider user tricks: IT horror stories

Take heed; lessons await

Trick No. 2: Yet another cleaning lady story

Incident: Dust bunnies collect everywhere. Even in server rooms with rubber floors, sleek black racks, and loads of fans. Why this happens has eluded even DARPA's finest scientific minds. What's also eluded DARPA's brain trust is why offices routinely allow their cleaning people access to critical server rooms during unsupervised off-hours.

Sometimes they know to leave the humming, blinking boxes alone. Other times, as was the case in this instance submitted by a reader identifying himself as D. Lartner, they see dust bunnies not just around the server racks, but in them as well. Whereupon they open the racks. Whereupon they see servers with their cases partially open and little dust bunnies bouncing around because the sysadmin was more interested in eating donuts than keeping his machines clean.

So the cleaning people did what cleaning people do. They cleaned. Around the racks, inside the racks, and inside the servers. With Windex. Zot.

Fallout: A new cleaning crew (which I thought was unfair); a stern talking-to administered to the sysadmin; and a new cleaning schedule that includes the server room only when other folks are in the office.

Moral: Two, this time. First, that cleaning people always get blamed because everybody needs a scapegoat. Second, don't expect everyone to know what you know about electronics -- even if you think it's obvious.

Trick No. 3: Figureheads can hurt you

Incident: Once again, it's an issue of executive control. According to a reader who wishes to remain nameless, there once was a vice president of information technology -- the MBA kind, not the techie kind. He's a fan of staff meetings but never knows what's being said at these events because geeks aren't helpful that way unless one asks them right -- and brings sugar and Jolt or a stripper. So he takes matters into his own hands and enrolls in some online Exchange administration classes. Nothing wrong with that, except that he doesn't tell anyone because he wants to "keep his edge." Yeah, that's smart.

That's also where the current Exchange admin messed up. He kept a spreadsheet of access passwords in his desk and allowed his boss to know of its existence -- after all, the boss would never use them, right? Wrong. After he'd passed his way into Exchange Management 201, the VP of IT snagged a password from the admin's desk and took a tour of the server stats, where he found that Exchange message store was running at more than 65 percent. A huge problem, he decides, because his instructor said best practices dictate 50 percent or less at all times.

Not realizing that the current Exchange team routinely allows the message store to run as high as 70 percent (whereupon they receive an auto-warning and begin to prune files), Mr. VP decides he's going to solve this problem all by himself and stick it to them at the next staff meeting. First, he prunes by date and nothing else, thus deleting a couple gigs' worth of e-mails folks still needed. Then he gains access to some senior executive e-mail stores and can't resist spending some time poking around where he shouldn't because they apparently didn't get into audit trails at this point in his Exchange curriculum. Naturally, this is a big red flag on the audit logs, which the real Exchange team peruses while trying to figure out what happened to those 2GB of missing e-mail. They were stumped for a bit because he was using someone else's credentials, but some social engineering caught him later that day.

Fallout: The VP got fired -- not for losing the e-mail, but for sticking his snout above his pay grade. The senior Exchange administrator got reprimanded for the password spreadsheet. The next VP of technology had both an MBA and a computer science degree.

Moral: Being a senior IT exec requires a lot of business knowledge but it still requires some technical chops, too -- and maybe a side order of integrity.

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Oliver Rist

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