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Application security programs and practises

Episode 6 BOFH 2000: Episode 6

So we've got a visitor in at Mission Control for the next couple of days who's going to upgrade the main financial software package that the company uses.

And wouldn't you know it, his hourly rate (I happen to notice, when his briefcase accidentally falls open after I trip and insert a paperclip into its lock) is such that it brings a tear to even MY trained eye -- and I, not being unversed in the arts of extortion and general larceny -- am fairly hard to surprise.

Of course, his disguising it as a DAILY RATE gives the impression, to naive types (The Boss, The H.O.D and Technical Contracts Group), that you're getting a lot more for your money that 7.5 hours. Well, 4.5 if we're to be completely honest and subtract food/beverage and newspaper breaks.

However, as they say, you're paid for what you know, not what you do...

"So what you're saying is that he's extremely overpaid?" the PFY asks when I explain these facts to him.

"Why do you say that?"

"Cos he knows bugger all!"

"Well he won't be a computing jack-of-all-trades like us -- his forte is no doubt the accounting application and it's installation."

"So why's he reading the upgrade documentation?"

"A lot of this stuff is highly complex, with hundreds of pre-upgrade procedures to be carried out," I remind him. "So he's probably performing the checklists. What section is he reading at the moment?"

"The introduction -- entitled 'How to use this documentation'."

"Well, he's probably..."

"He's been reading it for an hour now.."

"Ah"

"Ah?"

"Ah. Meaning, it sounds like we've got a suck-it-and-see upgrader."

"Suck it and see?"

"The old-fashioned way of checking if mains cable was live"

"You'd suck a cable?"

"Don't be silly -- that's dangerous! You'd get an apprentice to do it!"

"Oh. So what does it mean now?"

"It means I think he'll skim the upgrade text, ensure we have a complete backup of the system, then rush blindly into the upgrade, accepting all defaults -- KNOWING that he can recover the data if needed.

"Ah."

"Precisely. And if it works, he comes out looking smokingly good at his job, if not there's 'some incompatibility with our software or with the upgrade pack' and we roll back."

"Rollback?"

"Yes, it's a nice way of saying that you've made a pig's breakfast of the whole thing and want the evidence erased by a recovery."

"Has anyone ever called you cynical?"

"They may have, but they're just bitter.."

Our conversation ends seconds later with the reappearance of the person concerned, complete with upgrade manual and highlighter pen.

"Ah, just checking that you've taken a full system backup before I start."

"Sure have!" I lie, nudging the snapshot tapes into the bin as he leaves the room.

...Several Hours later...

"I'm afraid we'll need to rollback the upgrade"

"Oh, why's that?"

"Looks like there's an incompatibility between your revision of the Database code and the version the upgrader expects" he murmurs.

The needle on my desktop Bollockometer wanders off-scale for a moment or ten.

"Sure," I cry, grabbing a tape from the pile of read-errored duds on my desk.

..10 Minutes Later...

"I'm afraid the tape we wrote has read errors and is unrecoverable," I report.

"I..." he gasps. "Didn't you read it to verify it?"

"Of course" I respond, ignoring the ticking sound as the Bollockometer clocks itself "but my guess is that the read pass must have been the straw that broke the camel's back -- media-wise!"

"Can't you recover ANY of the data?"

"Nope, the error's at the beginning of the tape -- as you'd expect of the most used area of magnetic media," I burble.

"Oh dear," he says, only minorly apologetic. "Our statement of indemnity clearly states that we're not responsi.."

"Statement of indemnity?"

"Yes, as a matter of course we get a signatory from our clients to indemnify us if there are problems as a result of the upgrade. I have it with me in my brie.. ..Hmm, it's in here somewhe..."

"Oh dear. Don't tell me you've forgotten to get an indemnity form signed. And I just BET you're a private contractor who signed an indemnity form with your agency indemnifying THEM ?"

"I..."

"Which means it'll be you *personally* that our company will be pursuing for damages..."

"I..."

"Unless, of course... But then..."

"Unless what?!?!?!"

"Well unless of course you re-enter all the data from the ruined tables into the database before the beancounters get in the morning..."

"But the corrupt table's got about 200,000 rows!"

"Yep, it'd take ages to re-enter. Unless you somehow managed to bribe all the women in our D.P. Pool to do it for you..."

"COULD I?!?!" he gasps.

"I dunno -- sounds a bit pricey to me!" the PFY chirps, right on time "You'd be lookingat, I dunno, a couple of grand."

"I can manage two thousand pounds!" he blurts.

"Ah, that would be THREE thousand pounds -- by the time my assistant, myself,and the Head of DP are taken into account."

"Would you take a ch.."

"CASH. If you hurry you could get it before the banks close and the DP staff leave."

It takes about 10 minutes for him to rocket out of the building and collect the wherewithal to make the transaction. I assure him the DP people will work till it's done, or take the blame themselves for the error -- which appeases his distress largely.

As soon as he's gone, I slip the PFY his share (500 quid) ignoring his protestations.

"Was it YOU who split the disk mirror this very morning?" I ask whilst invalidating the data on the upgrade disk with a few well-placed keystrokes and bringing the old version Online with only a few more. "Was it YOU who stole the indemnity form from his briefcase? I think not! You got paid for your two parts in this -- your estimate of the DP Pool cost at the right moment.."

"And?"

"Those pints you're about to buy me!"

"Of course!" ®

BOFH is owned by Simon Travaglia: don't mess with his copyright

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

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