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Recycle Electronic Waste by Georgia Weidman.

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  • Recycle Electronic Waste by Georgia Weidman.

    It wouldn’t be politically correct to begin something like this without duly noting how lucky I am to be gainfully employed. Being a government contractor may have real potential as one of those my life is a slapstick comedy TV shows, but wandering off for a couple of hours and then claiming to be in the server room on important security business if anyone asks, which they won’t, is no doubt a lot better than taking your breaks on a timer. The guys down in the server room wouldn’t rat us out anyway, not because they made a new year’s resolution to be nice to contractors for a change, but because we planned this during their daily scheduled nap time. Probably actually working for the government would be marginally better than being a government contractor. I thought college had taught me the value of nap time, but I humbly admit I didn’t know the half of it until I started “working” from 9 to 5. I mean 8 to 6. Up here on the 46th floor there’s always the possibility that one of the managers will mysteriously materialize for the first time all week as soon as I start to nod off, desperately in need of assistance locating port 80 on the back of the computer tower and then insisting that my career prospects, read billability, will improve dramatically if I get such and such a security certification that said manager has had for at least 5 years.

    One day I found myself alone in the cubicle for the first time since I don’t remember when. Two of my cubemates had gone out for coffee without inviting me again. Things had been a little tense ever since one of them got the idea I was pitching the idea for the hackers comedy to major TV networks behind his back and began adamantly insisting it was his idea in the first place. My other cubemate was out with the swine flu. I was thoroughly entertained for about an hour just backing up in my chair to the center of the cube without bumping into anyone else. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with complaining about having nothing to do at the office when there are many unemployed individuals who would love to have one of those jobs where they actually make you work doing menial tasks, the kind of jobs we all went to college to avoid. Recently while at work I've discovered I can fit one of my ear buds into my left nostril but not my right.

    I had started bringing the handheld video game to the office because of the commute. I had chosen my apartment solely upon the grounds that it was 3 miles reverse commute from the local office of my company of employment. I had heard truly harrowing things about the commute from people in the year above me in college who were also sent off to the big bad city, so very harrowing that they made me half consider being one of those college graduates who goes back to living with his parents and watching syndicated TV all day. About the time I took the unbreakable vow with the apartment company I was let in on the secret, contractors never actually see their home-office. I tried reading on the bus, the subway, the other bus, and the elevator up to the 46th floor, but the janitorial department is not made up of contractors. So I was forced to find alternative means of amusing myself for 1.4 hours each way.

    In the interest of saving a modicum of brain cells for posterity I decided to forgo the usual bored at the office TV or perusing strangers’ tales of sexual dissatisfaction. Instead I took out the video game. I should have known better than to risk it since this was before we all stuck mirrors to our monitors and way before the advent of the manager tracking system. As it turned out our manager waited just long enough to find me completely off my guard, in the middle of my product placement scene, rocking out to victory fanfare. The natural human reaction to getting caught playing a video game by one of the 3 or 4 individuals directly in charge of deciding my future as a gainfully employed member of the human race would have been to jump out of my chair in fright, knocking over at least one computer in the process, or try to discreetly hide the game and pretend nothing had happened as my face turned from red to purple to green. I was far too wrapped up in my off beat sexy dance to even notice her presence until I heard, "What are you up to Gnosis?" in that Six Sigma voice that's just nice enough that I was sure I was going to be canned on the spot, escorted out of the Department for Electronic Waste building like that contractor who was caught running a porno website from the department's computers.

    I was already in over my head with the printer penetration testing incident, so I had to think fast and come up with the worst and most implausible story I could. I blurted out, "This is a new device for eliminating the printer vulnerabilities."
    "Oh, where did you get it?"
    The improbability of any human being working in technology not instantly recognizing the hand held game system in question combined with the ubiquitous game hardware company logo that would pose a real problem if I ever went in to production on my show made it difficult for me to believe shw was buying iy. The truth was I hadn't even been able to get in the doors of the major studios to pitch my hacker show idea, and the local news station didn't seem to think running a show that parodied government life was altogether wise. So it was clear that if I was ever going to get this show off the ground I was going to have to go the new media route, build our cubicle out of spray painted cardboard in my living room and wrap the handheld game system in brightly colored duct tape so the game hardware company wouldn't end up garnishing my wages for life. "IT Help," I squeaked. It was the only reasonable answer. It's not like I could say I attached a personal device to the network given that so much as the use of open source software was strictly verboten by the company. I had no choice but to say I'd gotten it there if the game hardware company was going to have any wages to garnish.

    "Well that is great that you are trying to make things right using the proper channels. I will be sure to note that on your performance review. " I couldn't believe I had pulled this one off. "That device looks interesting. I think I will do to IT Help and request one for further analysis of how it could be further integrated into our project." So much for getting away with it. IT Help would of course have no idea what she was talking about, which on the whole was not altogether uncommon. Perhaps it would all be attributed to a symptom of the common end of fiscal year government contractor manager nervous breakdown, and one of the super managers who were billed more for an hour than our whole team for a week would be called in to assess the situation and give us refreshers on company protocol and how as contractors we were expected to perform above and beyond the standard expected of actual government employees as our performance would directly affect the company's chances of contract rebid in 5.4 years. However for the sake of safety I decided it would probably be wise to pay a visit to Katie down in IT Help. Also it was February.

    If I hadn't been so worried about my future as a gainfully employed individual I would have been starry eyed thrilled for a legitimate excuse to visit Katie in IT Help. Ever since I'd first seen her across the crowded conference room during my security awareness training seminar, gazing at me from beneath her purple tinted bangs with her glossed lips locked around the straw peeking out from a rainbow colored thermos, I'd been completely smitten. If anything my unrequited pining had increased when cubemate who was out with the swine flu noted that her choice of beverage temperature regulating devices pointed towards Sapphic tendencies. Then cubemate who was currently shunning me for unjust reasons told me he had it from good authority from his drinking buddy in payroll at the company that Katie had a live in boyfriend who was a business solutions consultant at one of the more well known government agencies. I'm not sure which is more tragic, not getting the geek girl of my dreams due to my gender or because she'd rather go with the absolute wrong kind of man. It really kind of gets to me since I am an information security professional. My future job prospects are so bright I'd have to wear sunglasses to work if it wasn't against the company's dress code. On the other hand, someone someday is going to realize that business solutions is a great big oxymoron.
    Perhaps I am a tad bit bitter, and frustrated. The bathrooms at the Department for Electronic Waste have something of a reputation for being particularly foul despite the taxpayer funded slides on personal hygiene in all the elevators. I hate to think of myself as one of those germophobe guys, but I have found myself avoiding coffee for fear of having no choice but to enter the 46th floor men's room. I've also been known to run over to the mall across the street in a true emergency. However, lately I've been having these fantasies involving Katie, me, and a bathroom stall. It's this place, I swear. They put something in the water.

    Since IT Help is a mere 3 floors below us, I decided to forgo waiting for the elevator and took the stairs. All was well, with me practicing exactly what I was going to say to Katie that would get the job done and yet not make me come off like some sort of loony, until I got to the 43rd floor only to find my badge had detached from my lanyard again. Without my government badge the only door that would open was the one on the ground floor. This seemed to happen on a semi regular basis ever since I got back from Vegas. I can't tell if the Defcon lanyard was designed to break government badge shields or if government badge shields are just the sort of plastic that any lanyard stronger than the government issued one will break them. I got down to the ground floor, but my ID to get a temporary pass to get back in the building was up in my cubicle. So I just went the super secret way that didn't have any security. Really I probably should tell someone that there is a way into the Department for Electronic Waste with absolutely no security checks, but ever since the whole printer penetration testing incident I've been reluctant to try to do good around here. Plus I was going to see Katie, who I sincerely hoped had a thing for the sweaty, windswept look after 46 floors down and 43 floors back up.

    It all started when someone down in the library complained that once a week all the printers would print out a bunch of pages with wacky characters on them. Further investigation showed that once a week every printer in the entire Department for Electronic Waste spit out exactly half a dozen pages littered with expensive government quality tax payer funded black ink. By my own personal estimation with no help from the asset management I figured there were about 3521 networked printers live in the building that spit out 6 ink splattered pages every time we ran a certain company and Department approved vulnerability scanner. Being the Department for Electronic Waste I decided it was our duty as a security team to do something about this weekly wasting of tax dollars, choosing to ignore the fact that the government drops a good deal of taxpayer money so I can watch TV at work, and the company in turn gives a meager percentage of that money to me, most of which I end up returning to the government anyway. But I digress. I think I may have gotten the wrong message from the company orientation segment on going above and beyond. The higher ups in IT were all for just ignoring the problem, or maybe having me go around the entire building and find all the printer IP addresses and remove them all from the scans. I will admit that I consented to bad practices, so long as you promise not to tell the CISSP board. I agreed to it on the condition that Katie was assigned to help me. That went ok for a couple of days, with me even occasionally saying something witty in her presence, until we realized we were still on the first floor. I had missed three TV shows. I calmly suggested maybe it could be a strategic goal for the printers to have their own VLAN. Then the chief technology officer mentioned to my manager that I had brought up Japanese porn with weird codex requirements in a meeting. So I decided to take the plunge and ask for a penetration test, hoping this wouldn’t also be misconstrued as sexual harassment.

    I went through the 2.7 month process to get a simple penetration test approved. I’m pretty sure they only approved it because they figured there was no way I could use a printer to do something bad, all the vulnerabilities could be accepted as false positives, and the Department could forget all about the paper wasting problem. Two days later I was suspected of trying to attack the American government. I tried to point out that all of the legitimate attacks upon the Department were ignored. Also that it was just a big miss understanding, that executable file on all the printers that said Gnosis-was-here-but –because-of-this file-could-be-everywhere-in-the-Department-for-Electronic-Waste was in fact nothing but a directory, the results of execution being the listing of files Gnosis-test and Gnosis-test2, both blank and read only. That was about the time the Department higher ups took a meeting on whether it was wise to have a security team at all.

    I didn’t get fired then, so I certainly wasn’t going to get fired now. To my horror Katie’s cube, all her own and every inch decorated with frogs and the color orange, empty. I envied IT Help their freedom of expression. Once before the printer penetration testing incident and even before the open source software incident one of the printers had suddenly spit out 15 pages stained in various shades of pink ink. Cubemate who was shunning me for unjust reasons saved the pages from the trash, and we had all decorated cubemate who was currently out sick’s part of the cube with them while said cubemate was in a meeting. One of the super managers was called in to give us a refresher on professional standards. She said my pants were too wrinkled. Far more pressing was the fact that my only in with IT Help was out for the day, and any minute now a elevator was going to mysteriously decide to stop at the 46th floor. Then my manager would get down here and find out I was a liar as well as a potentially dangerous computer criminal.

    The only thing to do was get cubemate who was shunning me for unjust reasons to forgive me. He was friends with everybody in IT Help. So I continued up the secret way, found said cubemate watching TV. Ever since this thing with me supposedly stealing his idea he’d been telling everyone who’d listen that I was a backstabber who stole his only chance to meet Tina Fey. For the sake of my future employment I decided to grovel and admit that he had been the first to say the exact words, “We could make a TV show about this, and I could meet Tina Fey.” I was careful to leave out the parts about how I was the one who had written the treatment, failed to make rent for the last two months rent to get cameras and lighting, and really only needed his social skills to get actors who would work weekends for possibly lunch, depending on the budget. I also admitted that when I went to New York to meet with the TV studios I did not in fact hack that billboard to say system32 not found. I only took a picture of it. He agreed to help me, got to IT Help just in time, and my manager thinks I got the last of the printer testers. So I’m in the clear until my manager thinks to ask me to borrow it. All in all it was just a typical day at the Department for Electronic Waste. Cubmate who was formerly shunning me for unjust reasons is now associate producer of my hypothetical hacker show. Syndication here we come.
    "Haters, gonna hate"