Broken Monitor: Tales of a Security He-Man

"Tell me about the loneliness of good, He-Man. Is it equal to the loneliness of evil?" ~ Skeletor

Like most kids in the 80s, I grew up watching cartoons. Both after school and Saturdays were sacred to me, and they were my escape from reality. He-Man, my favorite of all the cartoon shows, taught me that change could happen when you know you "have the power," and I believed, that when I grew up, I would have that power. Not just the power to make decisions, but the power to change the world for the better.

Flash forward through the years to one of my first IT jobs. I sat in a poorly ventilated, windowless, and not adequately cooled server room. The only power I had was the power to monitor the environment and to run to a user when their keyboard stopped working or their computer was acting "funny." Some hero I was.

I knew I’d hit rock bottom when our CEO asked me to come to fix his computer at his home, as he had to go to an "emergency meeting out of town" and "didn't have time to go to the office."

When I got to his house, there wasn't a problem with his computer, but his wife's and kid's computers needed some work. Each one had various issues (nothing that couldn't be solved if they had just Googled the problem), but I did my job and went back to the office. Because I spent the better part of the day at his house, I had to stay late and finish running the day-to-day maintenance on the servers and was stuck working late.

It was a little after 8pm when I started noticing some weird stuff going on with the servers. Their CPU and memory started to spike. At first, I thought it was just a bad update that caused the issue, but after doing some research this wasn't the case, as it didn't seem like anyone else was reporting these issues. I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, but ignored it. I was tired and just wanted to go home and get to bed.

After about an hour of troubleshooting (with nothing appearing to work), the CPU and memory returned to normal. I was dumbfounded but happy that I could finally go home since the maintenance was complete.

Fighting the Good Fight

The following morning, I was exhausted and running late. When I finally got to the office, my networking guy approached me, and he said there was a large amount of traffic last night and was curious about what happened. I chalked it up to the maintenance and patching I did the previous night, and we just went on with our day.

The next day when I got to the office, everyone was a little quieter than usual, and it looked like HR, Legal, and the Executives were all meeting in the boardroom. I didn't think much of it. I grabbed my morning coffee and went to my air-conditioned prison cell, or what everyone else called the server room.

It wasn't long before my phone rang - the caller ID said "BOARDROOM." I picked up, tempted to say, "Hello, IT, have you tried turning it off and on again?" but my need for a job outweighs my love of the IT Crowd. It was my CISO, and he needed to see me right away in the boardroom.

When I got to the boardroom, everyone was on edge. You could cut the tension with a knife. It was then that our head of Legal informed me that a series of confidential company documents had made their way into the public realm. The materials were our companies’ financial earnings reports and weren't supposed to be public for another two weeks.

I knew instantly we had been breached.

Then it hit me: the spikes in memory and CPU from a few nights earlier, the network traffic... they were all signs of a breach. I explained to them what happened a few nights earlier, and I was instantly blamed for not reporting the issue.

Now, I could attempt to explain the heavy workload, or the fact that I was tired, but that wouldn't matter to them. Hell, would they even understand the technical aspects of the conversation?

It was at that point I realized: Either they could have the power, or I could.

So, I quit.

Lesson learned: if something appears out of the normal it's because it is. Trust your instincts – you have more power than you know. 

 

* Editor’s note – this is fiction (in most versions of the universe).