IT Staffer Fired

In the early 2000s, it seemed that many companies were hit with a rash of virus attacks on their networks. Certainly the SQL Slammer worm affected many of us, and it was a memorable week for me. I returned from vacation to get a call late on Sunday night informing me of issues. I spent a long work working with network people and Microsoft to rid our (shut down) network of the worm, a difficult process with a wide deployment of MSDE instances installed in non-standard locations.

Not long after this, we had another virus invade our network and shut down systems. This was due to a high level manager clicking on an attachment in email, which spread issues to (far too) many others inside the company. Another long night for me patching and cleaning systems, and one where I questioned how someone could be fooled.

In the last year, a similar rash of incidents have spread around various organizations, this time with ransomware instead of viruses. One Florida city government was hit, with an IT worker being at fault for opening a document they received in email. The result? The city paid a ransom and the employee was fired.

Is this fair? I’ve seen the Twitter mobs and rapid comment trolls condemning and praising both sides. It appears many people rightly think someone clicking on unknown attachments should be fired, while there is no shortage of others that understand that humans get fooled and termination is too harsh.

Personally, I don’t know what to think. While most phishing and spam is poorly written, and I often check headers and easily see these notes for what they are. I have seen some very sophisticated and incredibly deceitful emails that might fool most of us.

If you have a privileged account, you better be really careful about opening any attachments from email. You shouldn’t download pictures by default except from whitelisted senders, and you might even want to stop doing that. Who knows if your co-worker or business partner got fooled.

It’s disconcerting though not unexpected. Perhaps this person was at fault, perhaps it was  mistake. Being fired is never fun, and all of us should be a little worried about this if we’re not careful.

Steve Jones

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