I'll see your data loss and raise you a security policy violation

Engineer trumped angry user by pointing to the rulebook

On Call With the weekend looming, The Register once again brings you an instalment of On Call, the weekly column in which sysadmins share stories of their eventual success.

This week meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Huon"* who told us of the time he worked as site engineer for a company so enormous he dare not even hint at its name or area of business, lest the events described below be identified.

Huon came across the anonymous mega-corp's international finance department, in which about 30 souls toiled. Those folk were increasingly to be found on the phone to the helpdesk because their desktop hard drives were full, which made their PCs unreliable.

The helpdesk investigated and found something odd: the c:\temp directory was taking up a lot of space on the department's PCs.

At the time Windows often lived in a mess of its own making, so one of Huon's colleagues ran a script to empty the directory overnight, assuming – quite reasonably – that with the temp directory emptied the PCs would have all the space they needed to deliver a delightful user experience.


"The next day I had to visit the department to explain where all their data had gone," Huon told On Call.

In the course of that conversation, Huon explained that the mega-corp did nightly backups of its servers. Restoring the data should be a snap. Or just a snapshot away, if you want us to give the universe a second storage joke.

The first, for what it's worth, goes like this:

Q: Why was the rock band called 1023 megabytes?
A: Because it couldn't get a gig.

Clearly, we digress.

After Huon told the finance department manager about the likelihood of a swift restore, that worthy revealed he and his team had long regarded the servers as "unreliable" and had therefore stored all their important documents in the only local folder to which they had write privileges.

You guessed it: that directory was c:\temp.

Which meant the data was gone – sensibly scrubbed by Huon's colleagues in the name of freeing up disk space to make PCs behave.

At this point Huon should have been in trouble. His team had, after all, just caused data loss.

But Huon pre-empted that charge by pointing out that the mega-corp's security policies did not allow local data storage. Those policies were properly written down in manuals, and not something finance departments should be ignoring.

"Fortunately it was the kind of place where the mere mention of security violation would silence any criticism," Huon told On Call.

Which is why Huon survived to write to On Call. We shudder to think of what happened to the finance chap!

Have users' bad security practices saved your bacon? Or has deleting data turned out to have an upside? Do you know any storage jokes? Click here to send On Call an email and we may feature your feats here on a future Friday. Keep 'em coming, folks. We're especially keen to hear from younger folks, and women – two groups that have historically been very shy about sharing stories. We promise complete anonymity, as explained below.

Bootnote* On Call picks Regomized names by considering factors such as contributors' real names and the circumstances of the story. This week, for example, one name of the reader who contributed a tale included the letters "Hu" in sequence. Choosing "Huon" was a nod to that real name, and a little pun on "You on?" which has a teensy touch of tech about it. We considered "Hunter" but decided against it lest it fuel certain conspiracy theories. If any of you decide that Huon could also mean "Q-on", the exit door is to your left – use it now, please.

When we receive a contribution that involves burying cable in a trench, we might Regomize the reader as "Doug". We mention this partly so we could reveal the "Huon" pun and partly to give readers comfort that we strive to make it very hard to connect On Call stories with their real-world identities. Indeed, to the best of our knowledge nobody has ever landed in trouble for sharing a story with On Call.

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