File suffixes: Who needs them? Well, this guy did

He followed the instructions... blindly

On Call Welcome to another edition of On Call in which minnows get munched and a Register reader recalls the headaches caused by the file extension shenanigans of a certain tech giant.

Our story today comes from "Rob" (not his name) who was working for a London-based tech company recently snapped up by one of their commercial clients keen not to lose access to their services.

"The result was that we found ourselves subordinated to their IT people in New York," said Rob, delicately adding, "who were most remarkable for how keen they were."

Unsurprisingly, it didn't go swimmingly. The Grand Poobahs over the Atlantic were not fond of their new subordinates' habit of not always following orders (normally when those orders would have resulted in the business foundering on the rocks of IT borkage). "One guy had a particularly high opinion of himself," remembered Rob, "and talked to me slowly in order that I could fully understand the complexity of whatever inappropriate or misconceived foul-up he was trying to persuade me to implement.

"Helpfully, he also pointed out how very significant their business was and how insignificant ours was."

Communications were always very polite, but we get the feeling that neither party would be buying the other a beer any time soon.

Hands needed to be joined across the Atlantic so Rob's bête noir had spun up a Windows Server VM, the sole purpose of which was to connect with the ones in London "to establish some kind of gateway between our domains, the exact function lost in the mists of time." This was, after all, more than a decade ago.

However, Rob did remember sending over the credentials for the link in a password-protected archive. All his counterpart had to do was stick the details into a file called credentials.txt, import it into the software, and lo – data would flow from nation unto nation.

But nothing happened. "A couple of days passed in which I was expecting at any moment to be told that the new gateway was up and running," Rob said, "but news came there none. No email, phone, fax, telex, telegram or pigeon arrived, no smoke signals were visible, no sound of conchs or drums. Nada."

As Rob was pondering what could have happened, the phone rang. It was his US colleague. He had been unable to persuade the credentials.txt file to import. He sounded a bit sheepish, but we're sure there was an undertone of "this must be your fault" to proceedings, judging by Rob's descriptions thus far.

"When I offered to take a look, somewhat to my surprise he immediately accepted the offer and gave me the information I needed to log in to the new VM."

The joys of remote access thankfully existed back then so Rob began working through the instructions. Yep, there was the credentials.txt file. Yes, it was in the right place. He opened it in Notepad (which "even helpfully told me that it was dealing with a file called credentials.txt"). Still all good, and no naughty characters where they shouldn't be.

His colleague breathing down the phone, Rob pondered. "Then I used File Explorer to look at the file's detailed properties..."


As a bit of background, Rob had set up hundreds of Windows Server VMs in his time and there was a standard list of setup tasks involved, some management software to install, and some tweaks to be made to the UI. "Microsoft, in their brilliance, had decided that none of its users on any machine or in any environment needed to see those stupid file suffixes, so they changed the default to hide them."

Thus one of the standard steps (in those days) was tick the filename extensions box to ensure they were visible.

Being the Grandest of Poobahs, his US pal had not bothered to check the box. The result was a file that looked like credentials.txt but was actually credentials.txt.txt and therefore would not import. It was in a folder with no other files so, to be fair to the user, the problem was not immediately obvious. Over the course of two days, Rob's colleague had struggled with the issue, been suspicious of the contents of the file and the competence of our hero. However, he missed the fundamental issue of the file name, which looked fine. So he'd made the call.

And now he would have to choke down some humble pie as well.

It took Rob less than 30 seconds to fix the problem followed by an intensely satisfying 10 minutes explaining it to the caller. "I was sure that could hear the sound of the gnashing of teeth," he recalled.

"Oh, the joy, the joy."

"After that we spoke less frequently, and when we did so, I couldn't help but notice that he sounded haunted and defensive, and no longer patronising," said Rob. "Then one day he was no longer there."

"Was it something I said?"

At least Rob was able to make use of the magic of remote access. Ever had to diagnose something similar, but with only the heavy breathing of the telephone caller to direct you to the always-simple problem? Tell us with an email to On Call. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022