A tale of command-line traps and bored engineers • The Register

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Who me ? Step back to the days when mainframes and terminals were all the rage and The Cloud was the smoke produced by the mainframe when a disk the size of a washing machine was about to drop its grip. Welcome to another Who, Me? confession.

Today’s plea for forgiveness comes from a well-known reader by the name of “Doug” and is a warning to negligent administrators.

“Back when terminals were still quite common,” Doug said, “the company I worked for provided ‘local’ data based on the result of a search performed on the client’s main data set maintained on his server.”

“We could telnet from these terminals to our box – and we often had to in the beginning,” he recalls. The client himself was nationally known at the time and had given millions of spankings to get this remote site up and running.

Things were going wonderfully. Until a month after go-live, when Doug and a friend were stuck at the customer site on a Friday night. The client’s engineer was long gone and Doug was finishing up final checks to allow a weekly backup to start.

He walked to a dark terminal near the server room and hit the return key to bring it to life. The prompt was strange, something he had never seen before. Tappity Faucet: whoami


Turns out he was logged in as root. At THE server. “You know,” he said, “the one that had all the billing information, delivery records, and the kind of useful stuff that kept a business going.”

At this time he could have disconnected. Instead, he called his buddy.

“We spent a good few minutes playing around with the login prompt before we had the wonderful idea of ​​typing something like ‘/etc/shutdown -t0 -h now‘ and leaving the terminal to go to sleep would be a happy jap.”

“Like me, most people used the ‘return’ key to wake up a terminal.”

Doug and his buddy went off to do whatever the techs did on the weekends at that time. It wasn’t until Monday morning that all hell broke loose and he (now on another site) was summoned to HQ for a chat. It turned out that the client’s primary (and only) database server had shut down unexpectedly.

Any protests of innocence were short-lived as logs were produced showing the commands assigned to the terminal at the site where Doug and his friend were.

“Awkward,” Doug understated.

However, Doug was saved by his manager who asked a simple question: how could “his” engineers have known about the connection to the client’s mainframe? “…and they were shamefully told that they hadn’t set a password on the root account…”

So, in a way, Doug was actually the hero of the hour, right? Hmm.

These days, neither the employer nor the client still trade “but not because of that, I hasten to add,” Doug said.

“The moral of this sad story is simple: novice technicians who know a little Unix are dangerous if they get bored, so be careful if your hardware connects to client servers.

“Oh, and secure your root access – and never, ever leave superuser accounts logged in.”

Have you ever left something connected when you shouldn’t? Leaving something explosive on the command line certainly ups the ante for today’s witty desktop background switcheroo. Tell us about your crimes by emailing Who, Me? ®