My computer career began in 1973, and my first computer was a vacuum tube model from the 1950s. (US Army)
Years later after obtaining a degree in computer software and hardware, I went to work for a quality electronics company, repairing it’s version of solid state computers.
Along that job path, I found computers failed in predictable manners even though the cause was peculiar or unique in some cases.
When I researched causes of failures, a true scientific method had to be used.
That is, I had best be ready to disprove my opinions as quickly as to prove them, a true agnostic approach.
“Measure twice cut once” was not my motto. Measure many many times, track data to time of failure was more accurate.
The failure causes I studied along the way, would include AC and DC electrical permutations, chemical corrosion, electro magnetic interference, electro static discharges, damage due to lightning and so forth. At a lower percentage of failures, I studied Zinc and Tin Whiskers, and changes due to Cosmic Rays.
Sometimes, none of these Physic based events described the failure. i.e. my proven method of measurement yielded no direct mechanism.
One such event took place circa 1995, in a certain building containing thousands of computers. These computers included every vendor as the purpose of the building was to create benchmarks for my company and others.
The people that worked there were among the best software people in the industry. Yet, their building had become the center of unexplainable failures.
Upon my first meeting with the engineers, they went over the myriad of failure symptoms they had to include sudden triplicate disc failures, compromised optical interfaces, and so forth. These failures were months in the making.
These failures encompassed hundreds of computers. In some cases the failures were duped, in other cases unique.
Drawing on a few decades of meaurements I knew very few of these failures could have happened in the Physics arena.
My opening statements were somewhat like, “These are either Software in nature or personnel sabotage!”
The room erupted in denial. Bottom line, software was not possible, as there were some forty highly experienced software engineers.
Sabotage was denied, but a bit more softly.
I promised to set up shop to measuring everything possible.
Multiple power line monitors were set up to measure AC and DC in varying parts of the building. All were monitored remotely with recordings available down to tenths of seconds.
Radio Frequency measurement devices were erected in case of airplane or police RFI, as both airports and police were in the area.
Many, many temperature, humidity, and airflow characteristics were measured.
Yet, the failures continued, and did not coincide with my measurements.
Along the next year and a half, many voice call sessions took place where my methods were called incompetent several times. Indeed, I was called incompetent.
Yet, I had one supporter. A relatively highly placed manager called me on a Saturday to ask why I believed sabotage so strongly.
I asked him to look at the time stamps of the failures. Usually, they occurred on a weekend, before hours, after hours, or a holiday.
“That is not the physics of the site environment, that is the hand of a man. Purposeful sabotage.”
He thanked me, hung up, yet within the month he called me back.
He had begun to patrol the rooms in off hours and on a particular weekend, had seen one young man that should have been at home, instead present. The young man saw the manager and blushed, and turned on his heels to return to his desk.
The manager now had a focus. He talked it over with several key software experts he trusted personally, and they decided to write a program to track the young mans keyboard entries.
Proof began to climb and finally the young man was interrogated by the FBI.
He would only admit to the positive when the agents could 100% put him into the situation, but it was more than enough to remove him from the company and deport him. When asked why, it was obvious because he was so junior that he throttled other jobs back so he himself did not look as bad. Simple human jealousy.
Finally, the failures ceased and the building went back to normal operations.
To this day, not one engineer that called on my incompetence has called up to tell me I was correct all along.
Regardless, this was an exciting case, highly charged and complicated, that a computer geeky writer would have difficulty making up.
No doubt this is still happening today, somewhere in the world, where one person destroys others works, in secret. And, likely enjoys what he does.
One thought on “A Case of Purposeful Computer Sabotage”
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