Beware the three-finger-salute, or 'How I Got The Keys To The Kingdom'

With great power comes great irresponsibility

On Call Friday is upon us, and with it another On Call story from those poor souls who have to answer the phone when everything goes wrong. Not all heroes wear capes and, as we'll see, remember to ward their Linux servers from an enthusiastic boss.

"Hans" is the contributor of today's tale, and his story takes place some 15 years ago, the era of the Friends finale, Shrek 2 and, of course, Shaun of the Dead.

In what will be a familiar story for many readers, Hans was the one-man-band IT department for a rapidly growing business. "When I started," he told us, "it was like 400 employees. Five years later it was 1,200."

Naturally, IT resourcing didn't keep pace with the business's growth.

Hans was on the road, heading to a new office location to set up some IT gear, when The Call came in: "I got a call from the company owner that something was wrong."

As it transpired, something was very, very wrong. There was: "No internet access, all subsidiaries are offline, no email and all 'production' stopped."

Whipping out his notebook and plugging in his trusty PC card modem (remember those?) Hans connected to the internet and logged into the company's modem.

"Back then," he recalled, "small companies like us did not have any corporate network from a big telco but managed everything on their own. This means that it had to be cheap."

"Cheap" meant a DIY router made from a home-built server running Linux. The server had been set-up to be a jack-of-all trades, acting as "Firewall, Router, VPN Gateway, Groupware Server, Timeserver and some other things."

What could possibly go wrong with such a set-up?

Hans connected, checked the logs and found the problem was "an unplanned restart about an hour ago."

He discovered that none of the services were running on the Linux server because whatever fool had set the thing up had configured the running state to be different to what was the default following a restart. "Changing the run state was therefore a quick fix to get everything to work again," he recalled happily.

The cause of the failure was a mystery. Hans checked in with The Boss and discovered that a user in a remote location had complained that he was unable to log in to the terminal server. Since Hans was out, The Boss (in a most unboss-like fit of business ownery helpfulness) decided to check out the machine in question. It all looked fine, but right after he checked the "Internet and Email had a problem as well..."

In fact, everything had had a problem straight after that innocent check.

Like a sleuth in paperback of the finest pulp fiction, Hans pondered the problem and, after asking a few more pointed questions, came up the sequence of events that led to the world dropping out of the bottom of the data centre.

The Boss had trotted to the server room, opened the rack, turned on the CRT (a CRT!) and hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete to bring up the Windows Server login dialog. Only after that did he hit the button to bring up the Terminal Server on the KVM switch.

What the boss didn't fully comprehend was that the switch was pointing at the Linux box, and that particular key combination could do terrible things to a console. Unbeknownst to The Boss, he'd "triggered the reboot of the machine sending it to a maintenance mode."

"All could have been prevented," sighed Hans, without "a boss who had enough access to be dangerous" and a user with a locked account.

"The very next day… The Boss handed over his key to the server room, understanding that most things he can do in there could cause more problems than solving any."


The story, however, does not end there, as Hans confessed to us that he "had kept quiet that I might have forgotten to change the default behaviour of a Linux console to NOT reboot when confronted with a Windows User, and having a production system start into maintenance mode by default..."

Oh, Hans.

Ever had to defrock The Boss after a call-out revealed power gone to the head? Or had someone blunder into a cock-up of your own making? Send an email to On Call to share the pain. ®

Other stories you might like

  • US won’t prosecute ‘good faith’ security researchers under CFAA
    Well, that clears things up? Maybe not.

    The US Justice Department has directed prosecutors not to charge "good-faith security researchers" with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) if their reasons for hacking are ethical — things like bug hunting, responsible vulnerability disclosure, or above-board penetration testing.

    Good-faith, according to the policy [PDF], means using a computer "solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability."

    Additionally, this activity must be "carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services."

    Continue reading
  • Intel plans immersion lab to chill its power-hungry chips
    AI chips are sucking down 600W+ and the solution could be to drown them.

    Intel this week unveiled a $700 million sustainability initiative to try innovative liquid and immersion cooling technologies to the datacenter.

    The project will see Intel construct a 200,000-square-foot "mega lab" approximately 20 miles west of Portland at its Hillsboro campus, where the chipmaker will qualify, test, and demo its expansive — and power hungry — datacenter portfolio using a variety of cooling tech.

    Alongside the lab, the x86 giant unveiled an open reference design for immersion cooling systems for its chips that is being developed by Intel Taiwan. The chip giant is hoping to bring other Taiwanese manufacturers into the fold and it'll then be rolled out globally.

    Continue reading
  • US recovers a record $15m from the 3ve ad-fraud crew
    Swiss banks cough up around half of the proceeds of crime

    The US government has recovered over $15 million in proceeds from the 3ve digital advertising fraud operation that cost businesses more than $29 million for ads that were never viewed.

    "This forfeiture is the largest international cybercrime recovery in the history of the Eastern District of New York," US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement

    The action, Peace added, "sends a powerful message to those involved in cyber fraud that there are no boundaries to prosecuting these bad actors and locating their ill-gotten assets wherever they are in the world."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022