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Student requested access to research data. And waited. And waited. And then hacked to get root

The punishment – Windows 98 administration chores – was far worse than the crime

Who, Me? Welcome once more to Who Me? The Register’s confessional column in which readers admit to being the source of SNAFUs.

This week meet a reader we’ll Regomize as “Wesley”, who 25 years ago was about to embark on a thesis in mechanical engineering, continuing the work done by a more senior student who was working towards his doctorate.

Wesley needed that student’s data to commence his own efforts, so politely asked for the relevant files and code.

The senior student readily agreed, but the days passed, and Wesley still didn’t have the data he needed. Repeated requests were ignored.

“I decided to take things to my hands,” Wesley told Who Me? “I had access to the workstation where the files were stored, and a little research on Altavista let me write a small script to gain root access.”

Not many minutes later Wesley had the senior student’s data and code and got cracking on his thesis thinking he’d committed the perfect crime.

Until a couple of days later when a visit to the lab to access the workstation was interrupted by a couple of PhD candidates who wanted a chat. And not a chat about mechanical engineering.

“They took me into an office, and they started the conversation by saying that they saw the logs and observed unauthorised root accesses to the workstation.”

“I confessed because what else was there to do? I told them that the other guy was not cooperating, and I did what I had to do.”

At this point the meeting became a little tense: the PhD candidates mentioned that the would be well within their rights to report Wesley’s actions to the department.

Wesley was saved when he mentioned the name of the senior student who’d been so slow to share data: it turned out one of the PhD candidates was a friend so was willing to let it slide.

But Wesley was given a terrible punishment: the job of defragging every PC in the lab, and few others for good measure.

“I spent the next week formatting and defragging Windows 98 hard disks.”

The pair of PhD candidates who bailed Wesley up were both awarded their doctorates, became professors, and are still in touch with Wesley.

“We meet sometimes and remember the good old days,” he told Who Me?

Have you been busted doing the wrong thing for the right reason? Click here to confess your crimes and we will consider sentencing you to an anonymous appearance in a future instalment of Who Me? ®

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