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BOFH: Cable entanglements

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Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

Episode 3

"I've been thinking," the Boss says, wandering into Mission Control feigning nonchalance. "Surely with the number of movements in the building at the moment and the increasing copper price and all, we should invest in some data cable. Keep a stock of it on site. Ten boxes or so, what do you think?"

"Excellent idea!" the PFY says, knowing full well that a particular cable manufacturer is offering a 16 gig USB key with every ten boxes of cable purchased. "Or perhaps even 20 boxes - just to be on the safe side."

"Why not 30?" the Boss bids.

"Or 40?" the PFY says, upping the ante to levels which will see us needing a new storeroom.

While it's good to know that the PFY is fully prepared to let the company buy a stack of purposeless cable to land a 20 quid USB stick, the Boss doesn't seem to be at all concerned... yes, eau de rodent is in the air.

"So," I say, Camp-Daviding the bidding war. "Whose cable should we buy?"

And that's where the easy camaraderie between the PFY and the Boss comes to an end...

The PFY has chosen to go with the well known brand of Cat-6e warrantied cable that spans the entire building, whereas the Boss has chosen a little-known East European manufacturer whose cable warranty is measured in minutes from install.

An intense period of negotiation ensues where the PFY and the Boss both argue about the relative merits of their favoured cable - the Boss arguing that he can get five boxes of his cable for one box of the PFY's preferred brand, and how it makes sense to use it for infill cabling which probably wouldn't get warrantied anyway.

It all sounds a little... coached... for my liking.

I look up the cable manufacturer on the old interweb only to find... nothing. Which in itself isn't a good sign. However, after a bit of perseverance and some liberal misspellings I manage to find the UK launch announcement of the manufacturer concerned, complete with the news article on their current promotion - the chance to win a flight in a Mig fighter...

And now I'm torn between a rock and a hard place, to mix my metaphors into meaninglessness - if only for the alliteration.

One part of me wants to help the Boss win on the off-chance that the manufacturers have used some of their own cable in the control systems of the aforementioned Jet, but then the PFY does have his heart set on those USB keys - so I do have to be a bit careful...

"Tell you what," I say to the PFY. "How about we get a couple of boxes of the Boss's stuff in just to see what it performs like and make our minds up after we've tested it?"

...Ten abortive deliveries later (thanks to the PFY's policy of chucking the deliveries straight into the bin)...

"I'm telling you, we've seen nothing!" the Boss snaps down the phone. "So there's no point in invoicing us for it. We won't pay!"

"Cheeky buggers," the PFY muses, once the Boss has hung up. "They're probably used to dealing with big companies where no one keeps track of deliveries."

"Yes," I say. "A couple of boxes of cable - who's going to know if they got lost somewhere - and as it's so cheap they probably just expect we'd pay the bill without checking. We'll probably never hear from them again."

"No no," the Boss says. "They're sending a couple of their sales people over right now..."

>DANGER WILL ROBINSON!<

"What's the problem?" the PFY says as I ferret through my desk for any personal belongings, shoving them hurriedly into my bag.

"Have a quick look at the launch announcement photos on the web and tell me what you think their 'sales people' did in a former life...

">clickety< Uh-oh," the PFY mutters under his breath as he notes the collection of swarthy types that wouldn't look out of place on the cover of any of the magazines like Soldier of Fortune or KGB Quarterly. "Perhaps we should go bin diving and get the cable back?"

"Too late," I say, as the phone rings from the Boss's office. "I think they're already here."

"Bugger," the PFY says as the Boss summons us to his office. "I've pulled a hammy. You go, I'll try to catch you up."

Pathetic.

On getting to the Boss's office I find a vision of loveliness in place of the expected bemuscled umbrella-murderers. While the Boss scratches out a personal cheque in the hopes of winning another sort of free ride, I have a quiet word with the woman.

"Let's be honest," I murmur. "Your cable's probably 50 per cent copper, 50 per cent copper substitute and of a standard normally seen in Christmas tree lights. If we install it in our building we're likely to see a huge impact on our network performance and a rise in user complaints - not to mention that my assistant is liable to spend the rest of his life rerunning faulty lengths of cable. I can't understand why you'd even think that an IT professional would consider your product."

"I have gift vouchers for several major curry houses, an open tab at a number of large licensed establishments and a morally casual attitude," she responds.

"So, just the 50 boxes?" I say to the Boss moments later.

. . . the next day . .

"...and then they had one of their experts work me over," I recount to the PFY.

"Ah that explains the bruises around your neck," the PFY says. "The bastards! You were lucky to get out alive."

"I know," I shudder. "And I promised them I'd go back tonight to... uh... explain the missing cable. But looking on the bright side, the Boss has won his jet flight and their salesperson has assured me that their maintenance policy is the bare minimum required to land at a private airfield, so fingers crossed for a subterranean landing."

"Yes, fingers crossed," the PFY sighs.

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

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