I went to one of my Boston customers today to add a hard drive to their old SCO box. When I got there, the office manager approached me about a problem with their Exchange Server.
A little background here. The owner of the company has recently been battling serious cancer. Also, I had a Kerio server here, but against my advice, they hired a Windows consultant who switched them to Exchange. The consultant later turned out to be incompetent, so they are firing him. I say "are firing" because he's been difficult about giving up passwords and has also locked them into a contract for system backups.. so he's still somewhat involved.
I didn't like the Exchange transplant. Not because of lost income - the Kerio is worth about $72.00 (yes - seventy two DOLLARS) in yearly profit to me - but because Exchange is a horrible, clunky, insecure and EXPENSIVE product. I made my objections known, but they went with the new guys advice. OK. I'll take care of the Unix stuff and leave that alone.
The owner is doing fairly well, and still working, but has understandably turned over a lot of daily responsibility to some young employees. I don't think those young'uns like me - I'm the grumpy old guy who thinks Windows is crap - but we've had no real issues until today.
Today the manager told me that their Exchange Server had been hacked over the weekend. Actually, she didn't tell me that: she told me that there had been a "problem" and asked if I could make sure it was "fixed" as she didn't trust the consultant they are firing. She then handed me email which showed me that the SBS server and Exchange had been hacked.
Interestingly, the soon to be erstwhile consultant blamed this on port 25 being open to the server.. a truly brilliant response which would have caused me to snort coffee out my nose had I been drinking when I read that. Basically, it was anyone's fault but his and worse, he never really determined the source of the hack.
I explained to the manager that is like coming home and finding your home burglarized but no broken windows or doors to indicate how the thief got in. Basically the consultant was saying that the thief is not here now, so everything is fine. It certainly is NOT! If we cannot determine the vector of the hack, the server has to be reinstalled from scratch, no if, ands or buts.
By the way, his "port 25" explanation is like saying you got robbed because you didn't unplug your telephone cord while you were out!
I explained all that to her but added that I wasn't going to touch the Exchange. If she wanted me to put the Kerio back, I'd be happy to. Helping someone with Exchange is like handing keys to a drunk, in my opinion. Friends don't help friends fix Exchange.
So I went to look at the Unix server. The first thing I noticed was that there was over 10 GB of free disk space. As I was there because they needed to copy a 2 GB directory, I wasn't sure what the problem was. I went to the Accounting Managers office. She's another young'un with no use for me. I explained what I saw.
"X" (name omitted to avoid a lawsuit) "says that there isn't enough room", she sulkily told me.
"Well", I said, "X is an idiot, which is why you are firing him. I don't really care what X said!"
"X is all we have right now and he says it needs more space." This was definitely defiant. I have a strong impression that this girl didn't want X fired..
I went back to the Office Manager and told her of the impasse. She went behind closed doors to huddle with the Accounting person and emerged with an email from X. This email indicated that the server had been out of space but that he had found the problem and cleaned it up.
Whoah, hold on a second. HE cleaned it up? In the first place, if X is doing the Unix service, what are they paying me for? More importantly, this bozo has already demonstrated his incompetence with Windows, why the hell is he working on Unix??
Well, because the young'uns didn't want the old fossil involved, of course.
By now I'm pretty ticked off, but then the Office Manager provided dessert. She informed me that the owner (the woman battling cancer) was on her way in and that I should not tell her about the Exchange having been hacked.
I must have looked more than astonished. "I think that's rather an important thing", I said. "She needs to know about it."
"I know, but not today. I'll tell her later, I promise."
I didn't like that but I started thinking, well, maybe she's feeling really sick right now and this girl is just protecting her. Maybe she's right..
So I told her that was OK, but that I'd have to leave because I could not lie to the owner's face. I've known this woman for twenty years and although we don't mix socially, I consider her a friend; I just can't do it. So I left.
But while walking to my train, I had second thoughts. She had never told me that she was stepping down because of her illness. In fact, the last time I talked to her she seemed very chipper and up-beat. I decided to call her. I did, and got her voice mail. I left a babbling message explaining the situation, apologizing if she was in fact too sick to be bothered with this stuff.
Fifteen minutes later she called me back, incredulous that her employees were withholding this news and equally incredulous that they had let X touch the Unix server. This was not a happy conversation.
She said "I have cancer. I'm not sick."
So why would they want this problem withheld? To avoid her demanding accountability and resolution, I suspect. She agreed.
We're going to meet in two weeks to discuss things. I'm really not sure what to do. On the one hand I feel a deep responsibility to a long time customer. On the other hand, I feel that I have an adversarial relationship with at least two of her employees. They have little respect for my opinions and have made it fairly plain that they want me gone. I don't mind losing the customer - it's small money and I don't even like going to Boston, but I don't want to see someone I think of as a friend get hurt.
After arranging the meeting, my parting words were "Merry Xmas and watch your back".
She said that she would.
Got something to add? Send me email.
More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-07-20 Anthony Lawrence
The less accurate your mental model of a given process is, the less accurate is any guess you make about its malfunction. (Tony Lawrence)