The (IT) Nightmare Before Christmas

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Time is ticking away and it is getting very close to being the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Sadly, this time isn’t wonderful for everyone. For your run-of-the-mill IT pro, this time of year can be not so satisfactory.

Nearly one in every three IT pros will be called to respond to some sort of outage during the holiday season.

This isn’t the only abominable thing that can happen to a networking, security or administration expert, though. Here are three of our most heinous holiday tales.

 

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Frosty the Hard Drive

Being on call for the holiday season is definitely not the worst. I mean, I was going to be in town anyway, and it’s nice being paid to be “on duty” when all of my coworkers are on vacation for the holidays. I shouldn’t have to help any of them. Well, there are a couple of people in town and working, but they’re all working from home, anyway, so they shouldn’t need me. Plus, I’ll be able to take a vacation next year.

I look over at my work phone, content with the idea that no one should be calling me about work, at least until the new year.

In that moment, my R2-D2 ringtone starts going off and lights up with a name: Stacy.

Stacy is one of the new employees from the office. She’s on our sales team, and probably has to be on call to take care of customer issues with our products. But what could she need my help for in dealing with that?

I pick up my phone and answer:

“Hello?”

“Oh my god, Chad, thank goodness you answered! We have a major, MAJOR problem.”

“What’s going on?” I ask, expecting it to be a minor password issue or something since she’s new with the company.

“You know the external hard drive with all of our customers’ payment information? The one that we’re supposed to leave in the office as backup? Well, I may have brought it to my house last night to correlate some of the data since I’m working from home, and I may have misplaced it between the office and my house.”

Uh oh. This is not good. Not good at all. If that hard drive gets into the wrong hands, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially being stolen. The thing wasn’t even encrypted because it wasn’t supposed to leave the office! I know, shame on me as the IT guy for not encrypting the drive, but it was our backup, in a locked box, and I guess Stacy somehow got the key. We really should train our employees on proper security techniques.

I jump in my car and speed over to Stacy’s house. Maybe if we retrace every step she made, we could find the drive before someone else does.

Stacy is outside waiting for me as I arrive. I ask her if she has any idea when she last saw the drive. She remembers putting it in her car at the office, but doesn’t remember setting it down at her house with her bag from her car.

So, through some deductive reasoning, I determine that it’s either in her car, or it fell out of her car somewhere between the office and her house. In my head I’m hoping that the latter option gets discounted, as I don’t think either of us wants to canvas a four mile path covered in snow and slush looking for a hard drive.

I ask her if it’s okay for me to look in her car, just to be sure that it’s not in there before we resort to canvassing her neighborhood. She opens it up and we start digging through workout clothes, food wrappers and makeup, hoping to find a shiny metal hard drive in the depths of this car.

Nope. Nothing. Forlorn, I look out to her snowy yard, and a clump of snow right near her tire catches my eye. I kick at the clump with my foot, and out of the clump pops a shimmering piece of metal: the hard drive!

I run over and pick it up. The thing is freezing to the touch, with all of the ports encrusted with ice. I show Stacy the drive, she must have just dropped the thing walking into her apartment, and it happened to land in a pile of snow on her driveway. At least no one had seen it just laying out in the open.

I tell Stacy that I’m going to take the hard drive back to the office and lock it up, just so the information on it stays safe. She apologizes for the incident and sends me on my way. Before I drop it off, I probably should encrypt the data on the drive this time around.

 

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The Happy Holiday Hacker

I was sitting on my couch, drinking a cup of hot cocoa. The snow was falling outside my window, and I was thankful to not have to go into work today. Considering it was the day before Christmas, I was thankful that I got an extra day at home for the holiday, even though I was working from home.

As I took another long sip off of my cocoa, I determined it was time to get to work, so I pulled out my laptop from my work bag and opened it up.

I went to type in my password, and my login screen immediately went dark. Three words lit up the screen, in red and green lettering:

“HO, HO, HO.”

Oh no, somebody is accessing my computer, probably through my wireless network, and has access to completely change my screen. I think back to my first lessons in network security. I need to disconnect my computer from the wifi.

Thankfully, I was still able to access my connection menu, and thus was able to turn off my wireless connection. With the connection not active, the message was still showing. Yet it didn’t have the same glistening feel as it had before, as if it may be frozen.

So, I decided to turn off my computer. No matter which way I tried to move my cursor, it’s obvious that my mouse was frozen. So, I did something that would most definitely shut this thing off, the most versatile tool in my toolbox — a full power cycle.

With the screen completely dark, I rebooted my computer. The login screen came up normally, I was able to type in my password, and boot up my desktop. I did a search through my files. No malware, no viruses, no nothing. It’s almost as if I didn’t even turn my computer on prior to this moment.

I changed all of my passwords and logged back onto my wireless connection. Everything seemed to be working fine, but I decided to not load up the company files, just to be safe.

As I closed my laptop, and went back to my hot cocoa, which may as well be iced, by now, a loud thud came from my front door. Could it be those neighborhood kids throwing snowballs again?

Compelled, I got up from the couch, and went to the door to open it. No kids outside, but what I did see is a black envelope placed on my doorstep with three words embossed on it in red and green lettering: “HO, HO, HO.”

 

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A Routing Issue Even St. Nick Can’t Fix

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house all the creatures were stirring, especially my kids. I don’t have the patience to work at home with the kids getting so much older and rowdier.

But alas, the office was closed, and everyone was enjoying the holiday with their family. Everyone, except for a few customers.

So there I am locked up in my office at home away from the family fun. As I was sending out one last response to a regular from the UK, the wireless network menu on my computer greyed out. It was obvious that I was no longer connected to the internet.

It was okay, though. I had dealt with this happening before. I just needed to go and reset the router. I went out into the kitchen, where we keep the router, and see the family all calmed down, and starting to decorate some cookies for the evening.

“Mommy, are you done working yet?”

“I’ll be done in just a minute, sweetie,” I told them, “The router gave out on me again.”

I went over to the router, turned it off, and grabbed an undecorated cookie to munch before I head back to turn the router on. It wasn’t lighting up, but I figured it could just be slow to connect, and it’ll reboot by the time I get back to the office.

I headed to my computer, and checked my wireless network options. My home network wasn’t even showing up this time. I headed back out to the kitchen, and saw that the router still hadn’t lit up. I unplugged and replugged all the cables and cords, and even reset it with a pin – nothing.

I didn’t know what to do. These people needed responses, and they couldn’t wait until after the holiday! I don’t know much about routers and modems aside from what I just did, so I did the only thing I could to do: call the IT guy from my office.

I explain my situation and he offered to come over and see if he can diagnose the problem by seeing the router in person. And if he’s not able to fix it, he’ll bring a spare and hook it up to see if the problem is more than just my router.

He arrived and immediately started tinkering away at it.

“It appears to be totally fried, do you mind if I take it apart to see if the problem is in the hardware?”

I oblige, and as he’s taking apart the casing, the issue becomes clear: pieces and crumbs from a sugar cookie come falling out of the interior of the router and fall all over the kitchen table.

I look to my kids, all decorating away, and they laugh at the cookie. I knew that one of them jammed the cookie in there, and to this day, I don’t even know how they did it, but it was just so that I would have to spend less time working and more time with them.

Granted, the intention behind this did cost me a router, but spending time with my family, as loud as they may be, made it all worth it in the end.

 

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Want to hear more IT horror stories? Take a peek at our post from this past Halloween.

Here’s to hoping that none of these instances happen to you on this joyous season. And if they do, you can always train with us to make sure you know exactly what to do. Happy Holidays!