Tech

Boss installed a virus, left techies to mop up

On-Call Welcome once again, comrades, to On-Call, The Register‘s celebration of the tech proletariat’s struggles with oppression by bourgeois bosses – and the eventual triumph of the workers!

That reason for that burst of revolutionary language will hopefully become apparent in this week’s tale, which features a reader we’ll Regomize as “Winston Smith” – an archaeologist by trade who found himself dragged into IT.

“In the early 1990s, I and a partner were the designated ‘computer guys’ for a small ‘cultural resource’ firm in central California,” Smith explained. “In said role, we were responsible for setting up a peer-to-peer network when the business moved to new space. We did everything from pulling the cable, to installing the hardware and software on the various computers in the offices.”

“We set up a print server and made sure that things worked and were updated. We also made magical gestures over computers when the electrons suddenly refused to work for certain employees. We installed antivirus software and sternly insisted that it not be overridden, and to call us if it complained.”

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Winston and his comrade even assembled all the computers. The boss, however, was allowed to buy a more powerful off-the-shelf machine.

In return for the efforts outlined above, Winston and his colleague were offered the occasional junket to visit other archaeologists and explain how technology like geographical information systems could enhance their work.

But the boss liked junkets, too, and stole the best of them.

Including one that ventured behind the then-tattered Iron Curtain, in the dying days of the USSR.

As Winston tells it, while on that trip the boss expressed a desire to keep tabs on his staff while he traveled.

His eastern European hosts delighted him by saying they had just the thing: a “monitoring” application that would “report” on work done by each user. They would gladly let the boss have a copy of this miracle software.

The Eastern Bloc was, at the time, regularly exceeding – no, smashing! – all production targets. Which is why its people got sick of Communism.

But the boss thought a productivity monitoring tool with ties to the old ways was a splendid idea, so brought it home and put it to work.

It certainly made a difference to Winston’s productivity.

“The week after the boss returned, my antivirus system reported that my system had come down with a cold,” he recalled.

“I cleaned it up and warned everyone about the event.”

The next day, another computer displayed the same symptoms. And another the following day.

A week later, Winston’s PC caught the same virus, again.

“I and my partner were baffled,” Winston told On-Call. “We could not find a source on the network and could not figure out how just one system would suffer the virus at a time.”

“Then the boss’s PC contracted the virus, and so did his laptop (kind of a luggable at the time).”

Winston asked the boss if he had any idea what was going on, which elicited a confession about the monitoring program, plus production of a floppy disk with a handwritten label in Cyrillic script. The boss had been installing it on each worker’s machine.

“He explained a friend from behind the Iron Curtain had given him a free copy of the monitoring software,” Winston recalled.

So Winston took action: he cut the floppy into tiny pieces, then scanned and scrubbed everything – disks, backups, the lot – to ensure the Communist code had been eradicated.

Later, naturally, his employer complained about the cost of cleaning up after the virus.

What nasties has your boss brought back from a trip? Comrades, techies and Register readers, it is your duty to click here to send On-Call an email so that the masses may be amused, educated, and enlightened by your story in this place on a future Friday. ®


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