As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.
It’s 9am in the morning, a quite unusual hour for me to be awake, let alone dressed in a suit and tie, when I stroll into the department chair’s office to meet with the expulsion committee. After shaking the hands of all the committee members and thanking them for their time and consideration of my case, I sit down to face my accusors, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the department’s morbidly obese systems administrators with a penchant for mafia-like theatrics (see this episode). The two of them have stupid grins on their faces. I smile back as I ope my briefcase just enough for them to see the Fritos and Mountain Dew sitting inside. Tweedle Dum hastily suppresses his drool reflex.
This means he skipped breakfast. I’m going to enjoy this.
The Department Chair clears his throat. “We’re here to begin the expulsion proceedings. For transparency, these proceedings, they will be audio-taped. We will begin by letting the accusers present their case and then let the accused rebut it. Let me remind all in attendance that the Honor Code is in effect.”
Now the Uni “Honor Code” was worth about as much as a few sheets of bog paper, if the (unprosecuted) blatant plagiarism on undergraduate research papers was anything to go measure by. But that was largely irrelevant, since Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’s “open-and-shut” case was about to be blown as wide open as Ashley Alexandra Dupre‘s legs, and I wasn’t going to have to utter a single un-truth. Anyway, I reach into my briefcase to crinkle the Frito’s bag again just to get to Tweedle Dum. I sit back and watch the proceedings commence.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum outline their case more or less as expected. They present the log files of the Nessus scans, cross-referenced with connection-level traffic logs from the router (Impressive! I need to give these two more credit) and the IP allocation list, to show which machines had open SSH connections into the server at the time (my home machine, Li’s office machine and the one in the lab). They make no mention of a mercy deal as of yet, probably expecting me to embarrass myself and then offer “clemency” if I turn over the root password. Like hell.
I open my statement by thanking the two admins for their diligent efforts in defense of the department’s system. OK. I just violated the “honor code” with a bald-faced lie. But while the admins are doubtful, the profs on the committee nod along as if they believe it… except for the Department Chair, who seems to detect the irony in my statement despite my best efforts in hiding it. Drat.
I then present my own evidence, including the system logs that show the local privilege exploit run on my box enabling someone to achieve root access. I note that Amy, Li and I were the only people logged in at the time, and an external penetration being ruled out due to their detailed connection logs. As it’s unlikely that I rooted my own box, I therefore submit that either Amy or Li would have had to have done the dirty deed.
I smile as Tweedle Dee steps up to respond, “Those logs could easily been faked.”
“True,” I concede. “Anyone with root access can fake logs on a computer.”
I can see the Department Chair smile as I prepare my response.
“For that matter, your logs could be equally as fake as you feel mine to be.”
Tweedle Dee shifts nervously before finding his response, “But ours aren’t fake!”
I’m surprised he didn’t foresee my use of the he-said she-said defense, as I smile and response, “And neither are mine.”
Tweedle Dum picks up, “Be that as it may, I…”
I open a Mountain Dew as Tweedle Dum, evidently thirsty in addition to being hungry, looks longingly in my direction. I take a long gulp of a product I actually despise, but brought along anyway for it’s sysadmin neutralizing powers.
“Pardon me, I was getting a bit parched. Please continue,” I note.
Tweedle Dum gazes longingly at the can containing the unnaturally yellow-green drain cleaner he desires so greatly. An elbow in the ribs from Tweedle Dee gets him back to the task at hand.
“Be that as it may,” Tweedle Dum begins again, “I think you still have a problem.”
Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Sadly, this is one of those times. “Indeed I do. I have been brought before this committee and charged capriciously by two admins who are far more interested in settling personal scores than tracking down the actual security violator.”
The room descends into an icy silence as I finish my outburst. The admins glare at my angry as the seconds tick by. Finally the Department Chair interrupts the standoff, saying, “Do you have anything further to say in your defense?”
“No, Mr. Chairman, sir,” I mumble.
“Well then, all three of you get out of here while we confer.”
This was not how it was supposed to go. I walk out of the room, leaving my briefcase behind. Thankfully, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are as shaken up as I was by my outburst. Mindful of the fact that we’re just outside the Chair’s office, we all stand in a sullen silence. After a few minutes (which felt like a few eternities) of waiting, we are shown back into the room.
“The previous outburst aside,” the department chair begins, “Given the lack of firm evidence tying the accused to the offense, we cannot in good conscience expel him.”
I smile at the committee.
“But given the compromise of his machine,” Tweedle Dee butts in, only to be cut off rapidly by the Department Chair.
“I was just getting to that. You who stand accused, do you have anything to say about that?”
“As far as I can tell, it was a local exploit which our Linux vendor hadn’t gotten around to patching yet. The department systems would’ve been just as vulnerable to the same exploit — so long as the exploiter had an account on the system,” I remark.
“True,” echos Tweedle Dum, “but we…”
Crinkle, Crinkle, goes the Fritos bag. To add insult to injury, I have a little more Mountain Dew. Ahhh….
One elbow-reboot later and Tweedle Dum restarts, “But we’re constantly monitoring for security patches, since it’s our job to do so. We’re far better suiting to handle that role for all department systems than grad students are.”
The Chair winks at me and gives me a your-going-to-go-along-with-what-I’m-about-to-say-no-questions-asked look. I nod back and the chair says, “A point well noted. Would it be fair then to punish the perpetrator of the Nessus attack by removing their root access?”
Tweedle Dee smiles and says, “And get them to make a binding promise to never do it again?”
“Fair enough,” says the Chair.
“And you how do you feel about that?” asks the Chair, still giving me that look.
“Uh, sounds fair to me,” I say, sinking down in my chair to try to affect a defeated attitude.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are positively ecstatic for about 6.2 seconds.
“Good,” says the chair. “Then as per this signed confession I received this morning, you are to apply this punishment to Li immediately.”
“What?” the two obese admins shout.
The Chair smiles. “The confession tells all and my secretary has verified it to be genuine. Now get the heck out of my office.”
The two admins look perplexed as they shuffle to the door.
Feeling a little sympathy for the shafting they received, I pitch the bag of Fritos to Tweedle Dum.
“Except you,” says the Chair, glaring at me.
“Sir?” I ask.
“How did you get that confession anyway?”
“Uh, I guess you can say, I appealed to his softer side.”
“With a pitchfork no doubt. My secretary said he was a complete wreck this morning.”
“The thought of being expelled can cause a man to do strange things.”
“Indeed it can,” observes the Chair.
“Why do you think I let you off scott free? And don’t give me the I’m 100% innocent shit.”
“No idea, sir.”
“I’ll tell you. I’m no cream-puff, and I wouldn’t hesitate to have you dragged off to prison if that would serve as an example of the consequences of breaking the rules.”
“So then why, sir?”
“Because I’ve been looking for a way to humble those two for quite a while. They seemed to be developing a root==god complex, and they needed to be cut down a few notches. Besides, this gives me the perfect excuse to shaft them come raise season and put that dosh to better use. You were merely convenient, that’s all.”
I’m stunned. I never knew the chair was such a ruthless bastard.
Almost as if he could read my mind, he responds, “That’s how I got to be chair.”
“Is that all, sir?”
“Almost. You should probably head to the restroom. The laxative I put in your Mountain Dew should be kicking in any minute now.”