Intern with superuser access 'promoted' himself to CEO

Older and wiser colleagues couldn’t see the funny side

Who, Me? Aaah … Monday! That wonderful week-opening day that brings with it so many possibilities. Including, as Register readers know all too well, the chance to make errors that must then be discreetly buried – the subject of our Who, Me?, our weekly reader-contributed tale of career-threatening bullets you’ve managed to dodge.

This week meet a reader we’ll Regomize as “Niall”, who told us of his time as an intern at “a well-known massive semiconductor company.”

Niall’s team developed firmware and software; a role that saw it equipped with what he described as “a couple of *nix servers that were used for general development / testing/ continuous integration tasks.”

Everyone on the team, even lowly Niall, had a superuser account on those boxes.

“Being an intern, I spent a lot of time faffing about with things we didn't necessarily need and that nobody had asked for,” Niall admitted. One of those unnecessary things was a cron job that used the servers to send an email to other team members at 3:00PM sharp, to remind them it was time for a tea break.

Niall now thinks he was probably the only team member who thought that this was in any way cool or interesting.

But while he was setting up the automated email, he noticed something that was definitely interesting to his underoccupied mind: the email client he was using (mutt) allowed users to use any email address in the “From” field.

“Received emails would display in Outlook as if it really had come from that email address, complete with corporate profile photo etc,” Niall told Who, Me?

Like most interns, Niall was young. And like many young people, he didn’t always think things through very well.

So he set the From field to include the name of the massive semiconductor company’s CEO and sent an email to a colleague to advise him that he was fired, effective immediately.

“I thought it was hilarious,” Niall said.

Bu the recipient did not “and came over to tell me what a complete idiot I was.”

It didn’t help that Niall had pulled similarly lame pranks before – but identifying Niall as the likely source of the prank wasn’t the reason he was labelled a fool.

He earned that label because, as the recipient of the prank mail pointed out, replying to the message would have seen it arrive in the inbox of the actual CEO.

“If that happened, I probably would have been in a great deal of trouble,” Niall told Who, Me? That it did not happen, and he enjoyed a career in tech that continues to this day, was down to the kind toleration of a senior colleague.

Have you pulled a prank that rebounded badly? If so, click here to send an email to Who, Me?. Our mailbag is a little threadbare so help us out by sharing a story.

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