Monday, November 06, 2006

Shut down the Internet

A Sybase story this time. I was a network & security guy at Sybase for just under 5 years, between 1995 and 2000.

Speaking of 2000, I was at Sybase for the Y2K rollover. Like most IT shops, we had spent a couple of years planning for Y2K, and as it got closer, we got busier. Then I get a visit from the director of telecom. He tells me that for the rollover weekend, we will be shutting down all Internet, dialup and ISDN links.

What?!?

Yes, his boss, one of the co-CIOs we had at the time, told him to cut off all outside communications because of hackers. The request got dropped in my lap, because I was in charge of all the Internet links, firewalls, and dialup lines.

What?!?

It was explained to me that our CEO, John Chen, had been golfing with one of his buddies from HP, and he had heard through the grapevine that the hackers were going to be out in force on the Y2K weekend, and were saving their attacks for when companies were at their most vulnerable. Therefore, we were going to preemptively take down our communications links, just like HP!

(Remember the scandal about HP taking themselves off the net over the Y2K weekend, screwing their customers? No, you don't. It didn't happen.)

I tried, briefly, to deal with my upstream management on the issue. Nope, I was told it was a done deal. This was several days before the rollover.

I didn't wait long to go over everyone's heads and email the CEO explaining why he was making a mistake. Reasons included things like "You're going to make SURE you have a major outage on the chance that you MIGHT have an attacker-driven outage." "I know a lot of these 'hackers' they will either being working on Y2K at the day job, or drunk for New Years." "What about all of our customers who need last-minute Y2K patches? What about all of our OWN people who need the same from other vendors?" "Do you have any idea what level of attack we already get and live through every day? We get over a million failed connection attempts every day. Literally!".

And he started to relent. I had a reasonable explanation for each of his concerns.

The "deal" was that I would build a monitoring team, so that we had 24-hour around-the-clock coverage of the firewalls and other logs, looking for anything suspicious. I had to report in every so often. Anything really bad, and we would have to pull the plug.

Of course, nothing happened. After about 12 hours, the CEO got really, really bored looking at attack reports. Oh look, a port scan. Oooh... a distributed port scan! Hey, 100,000 attempts to connect to a telnet port that isn't listening.

But I had had to make 8 network & security people work the entire Y2K weekend, 8 hours on, 8 hours off, to be allowed to keep the links up. These were 8 people who had done their jobs ahead of time, like they should have, and by all rights should have had a nice relaxing New Years Eve for the big millenium switch.

And Sybase was just going to screw their customers. Not to mention making us as a company look like idiots.

So, I got my way, forced Sybase to do the right thing, and had to suffer for it. And naturally, I got the warning email after about "going through channels" (which would have got me exactly nowhere. I had had about 2 days.)

I left Sybase on January 31st to go work for SecurityFocus. Sybase had made a corporate decision to essentially spam people, also over my objections. (Did I mention that I was abuse@sybase.com?) Plus, I was starting to get the kind of treatment that made it clear I was being punished for going over people's heads. This just after I had tracked down a rogue sysadmin who was embezzling (a story for another time.)

Since then, I've taken jobs with people and companies that actually care about security.

(No, don't lecture me about what year the millenium rolled over. I have my own ideas about that.)

2 comments:

Dude said...

Nice one
!

very good story, I had a good laugh.

Acutally my birthday is new years eve. I had my employer tell me I had to work through midnight on NYE and I told IBM to take a hike :-)

I had so much fun, and dont regret quitting big blue for that once in 33 generations party!

-JP

techos tensados said...
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