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The Manager Who Knew Everything

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Have you ever worked for/with a manager that knows everything about everything? You know the sort; no matter what the issue, they stubbornly have an answer. It might be wrong, but they have an answer, and no amount of reason, intelligent thought, common sense or hand puppets will make them understand. For those occasions, you need to resort to a metaphorical clue-bat.

A few decades ago, I worked for a place that had a chief security officer who knew everything there was to know about securing their systems. Nothing could get past the policies she had put in place. Nobody could ever come up with any mechanism that could bypass her concrete walls, blockades and insurmountable defenses.

One day, she held an interdepartmental meeting to announce her brand spanking shiny new policies regarding this new-fangled email that everyone seemed to want to use. It would prevent unauthorized access, so only official emails sent by official individuals could be sent through her now-secured email servers.

I pointed out that email servers could only be secured to a point, because they had to have an open port to which email clients running on any internal computer could connect. As long as the port was open, anyone with internal access and nefarious intent could spoof a legitimate authorized email address and send a spoofed email.

She was incensed and informed me (and the group) that she knew more than all of us (together) about security, and that there was absolutely no way that could ever happen. I told her that I had some background in military security, and that I might know something that she didn't.

At this point, if she was smart, she would have asked me to explain. If she already handled the case, then I'd have to shut up. If she didn't handle the case, then she'd learn something, AND the system could be made more secure. She was not smart; she publicly called my bluff.

I announced that I accepted the challenge, and that I was going to use my work PC to send an email - from her - to the entire firm (using the restricted blast-to-all email address, which I would not normally be able to access as myself). In the email, I would explain that it was a spoof, and if they were seeing it, then the so-called impenetrable security might be somewhat less secure than she proselytized. In fact, I would do it in such a way that there would be absolutely no way to prove that I did it (other than my admission in the email).

She said that if I did that, that I'd be fired. I responded that 1) if the system was as secure as she thought, that there'd be nothing to fire me for, and 2) if they could prove that it was me, and tell me how I did it (aside from my admission that I had done it), that I would resign. But if not, then she had to stop the holier-than-thou act.

Fifteen minutes later, I went back to my desk, logged into my work PC using the guest account, wrote a 20 line Cold Fusion script to attach to the email server on port 25, and filled out the fields as though it was coming from her email client. Since she had legitimate access to the firm-wide email blast address, the email server allowed it. Then I sent it. Then I secure-erased the local system event and assorted other logs, as well as editor/browser/Cold Fusion/server caches, etc. that would show what I did. Finally, I did a cold boot to ensure that even the RAM was wiped out.

Not long after that, her minions the SA's showed up at my desk joking that they couldn't believe that I had actually done it. I told them that I had wiped out all the logs where they'd look, the actual script that did it, and the disk space that all of the above had occupied. Although they knew the IP address of the PC from which the request came, they agreed that without those files, there was no way they could prove that it was me. Then they checked everything and verified what I told them.

This info made its way back up the chain until the SAs, me and my boss got called into her office, along with a C-level manager. Everything was explained to the C-manager. She was expecting him to fire me.

He simply looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I responded that I spent all of ten minutes doing it in direct response to her assertion that it was un-doable, and that I had announced my intentions to expose the vulnerability - to her - in front of everyone - in advance.

He chose to tell her that maybe she needed to accept that she doesn't know quite as much about everything as she thinks, and that she might want to listen to people a little more. She then pointed out that I had proven that email was totally insecure and that it should be banned completely (this was at the point where the business had mostly moved to email). I pointed out that I had worked there for many years, had no destructive tendencies, that I was only exposing a potential gap in security, and would not do it again. The SAs also pointed out that the stunt, though it proved the point, was harmless. They also mentioned that nobody else at the firm had access to Cold Fusion. I didn't think it helpful to mention that not just Cold Fusion, but any programming language could be used to connect to port 25 and do the same thing, and so didn't. She huffed and puffed, but had no credibility at that point.

After that, my boss and I bought the SAs burgers and beer.

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