A Day in the Life of Two IT Security Curmudgeons

Two IT security guys survive a routine day the way many of us do -- by observing their daily challenges in words one might find career-limiting. Here they speak frankly -- and anonymously -- in diary entries of 140 characters or less.

Editor's note: Let's face it -- sometimes the only way for an IT security practitioner to make it through a work day is to vent to someone about the ongoing folly of misconfigured networks, clueless vendors/contractors, pointy-headed bosses (they do exist beyond the Dilbert universe) and users who do stupid things.

Thanks to Twitter and one's ability to mask their identity with colorful user names, a lot of that venting now unfolds to the enjoyment of a wider group of people.

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Two particularly cantankerous IT security curmudgeons have given us permission to capture a snapshot of their lives as told in daily Twitter rants. The editor has taken the liberty of setting up these so-called tweets in a day-long diary format. The goal is to show readers that many of their daily challenges are indeed shared by others, and that sometimes the best defense to one's sanity is a bit of venting and dark humor. [For a slightly different, perhaps more optimistic take on this, see Confessions of a Security Optimist.]

To protect the innocent, we'll call these guys Mick and Larry.

10 p.m. Sunday:

Mick: Tired, and some dimwit scheduled a Monday tomorrow.

6-8 a.m. Monday

The day begins with our heroes braving the traffic and long coffee shop lines.

Mick: Mornin' world. It's a cyber-tastic Monday morning.

Upon looking out the window.

Mick: Ah, schweet, another crappy morning. A cool, wet puppy nose stuck in the butt of the day.

Mick: I am feeling especially stupid this morning. Please sir, may I have more caffeine?

Later, at the local Starbucks.

Mick: Dawdling in line at Sbux should be punishable by death. I need coffee, you are in my way, die now. Oh, and fall so you don't block the line. I have largely cut back to two doses a day, a 6-shot latte a.m., a Dr. Pepper p.m. Yes, that is cutting back for me.

A few state lines away, Larry faces the day. He wakes up with a feeling of dread.

Larry: Shaking off the bad feeling. OK, attempting to do so.

Then collects himself.

Larry: OK let's try this again. Meds, check. Coffee, check. Headphones and sunglasses on. Look out day job, here I come.

On the train to work, a text message arrives in his BlackBerry inbox like a ray of sunshine. His spirits instantly improve.

Larry: Beautiful Monday moment! Two-hour afternoon meeting cancelled. If there was more room on this train I'd dance. Woohoo!

Meanwhile, Mick settles in at the office.

Mick: Just another day at the Packet Orphanage which is my cubicle.

He checks his voicemail box.

Mick: Another eternal and unanswerable question -- Why do so many people insist on leaving voicemail messages without their !@#$ call-back number?

He takes time to answer a question from one of his Twitter friends, who asks, "Why is it the day I get two hours of sleep I get tossed into a surprise meeting with a passel of govie CIOs?"

Mick responds: Look at it this way: If you woke up happy and well rested, they would ruin it anyway, so go with it.

Mick, reviewing the week's events: New product training this week. Good stuff, but I may doze off occasionally.

8 a.m. to noon

Larry, happy the hour before because a meeting was canceled, learns that there will be a meeting after all. His spirits sink.

Larry: And the marketing team said: Let there be meetings! And meetings begat meetings. Which begat more meetings. And we met.

Back in the Packet Orphanage (Mick's cubicle), the monotony of the morning is apparent.

Mick: SMTP logs, SMTP logs, SMTP logs. Who's jealous?

A few minutes later:

Mick: Log files, packet captures, log files, packet captures, log files, packet captures, log files, packet captures, log files, packet captures.

Mick: May dive into Visio and make a diagram of the network for entertainment value. LAN has 2 GW, each of them w/ 3GW, all 6 same, double NATing.

Then, the obligatory talking back to a badly-behaving piece of software.

Mick: Oh thank you Clam AV, another false positive to waste my time this morning. Could you waste a pile of RAM and maybe a few CPU cycles, too?

A friend on Twitter tries to buck him up, writing, "At least it sucks for free. I'm glad no one pays for crappy anti-virus, that would be terrible."

At Larry's office, the dreaded vendor briefings commence.

Larry: Hearing about "PCI Compliancy." Um, fail in progress. Check your customer business line before you show up.

The visiting vendors continue to frustrate. Fortunately for Larry, there's a BlackBerry in the room. He uses it to share his pain via TwitterBerry.

For [expletive deleted] sake! $vendors, know WHO your customer/audience IS before you show up.

Finally, the trauma passes and it's time to pick up the pieces and prep for the afternoon drudgery.

Larry: Crawling out of my morning of $vendor meetings. Need a nap/beer/food (circle choice).

Noon to 6: 30 p.m.

In both offices, a breakdown of all control and sanity commences.

Mick: No problem, I'll just use my psychic powers to diagnose this. It is coming- I see an, hmm, isn't clear yet, looks like, yes, I see an idiot.

Mick: Speaking of psychics, why do they advert things like psychics on duty all day, shouldn't they just show up when they know they're needed?

Mick: Why do people insist on trying to clean pwned Windoze desktops? Stop it, it won't work. Sing the song: Fdisk, format, re-in-stall, do dah.

Larry: There are some people who should be fed to a pack of ravenous gerbils for calling themselves security anything.

Larry: Here's a great idea. It's pouring rain. What better time to have an evacuation drill. /me head/desk/repeat.

Later in the afternoon, a reorganization is announced at Larry's company. Fortunately, he lives to tell about it.

Larry: Survived re-org. Heading home after some wobbly pops with the team.

Back at the Packet Orphanage, co-workers, contractors and other assorted characters test Mick like never before.

Mick: I have never understood people who pay to be abused. If your vendor doesn't want your business, don't give it to them.

Mick: Pro Tip: Don't abuse 1st-level support staff and then expect that senior engineers won't know you're an arse.

Mick: The fact that you are too lazy to read a manual or KB article does not elevate the priority of your case. It even may do the opposite.

Mick: Pro Tip: Update and patch your stuff before calling support. Love the "we fixed that years ago" answer, really a good use of time.

Mick: POP! My stupidity breaker just tripped.

Another tweeter: "Thunder outside nearby. Two 150-pound mastiffs both tried to climb on my lap, whining. Big babies."

Mick: I have the same problem, only with support engineers.

Mick: Head. Desk. Repeat.

Mick: When did best practices become synonymous with bare minimum expected? That's not the meaning of best I learned.

Mick: Backups, we don't need no stinkin' backups. Oh, crap, help me!

Mick: There are a lot of people fighting for the mantle of where good software goes to die these days, aren't there?

Mick: AT&T has proven that you don't need to be a monopoly to suck on a global scale.

Late afternoon:

Mick: Smart meter systems scare the crap out of me. They are networked. By overworked and undertrained network admins.

Mick: Windows networking is messing with me. Shocking, I know. It is just a route command, how hard is that?

Mick: Reminded again today that the 10 percent of Americans who are unemployed are not entirely the correct 10 percent who should be unemployed.

The day winds down with some report reading and reviewing of hiring practices in his company and elsewhere.

Mick: Overworked people don't have time to hire well, so they resort to checkbox hiring. Need skill X and Z, even if that changes next week.

Mick: The hiring dilemma: you want someone who can learn and grow with the job, but it's much easier to just fill need for skill X to put out fire. But meanwhile, no one with skill X applies, and people who could learn it before you find one continue to be unemployed.

Upon reading a report claiming that half of all security pros (those responding to the survey, anyway) hate their jobs.

Mick: Half of all security pros unhappy? The happy 50 percent aren't paying attention. Or are heavily medicated.

7 p.m. to midnight

Work continues from home.

Mick: One last customer's problems punted deep into QA territory, beer consumed, things are looking up.

The next day

After a good night's sleep, Mick heads to the airport for a business flight across the country. The airport/flight experience unfolds as follows.

Mick: Oh, yeah -- I've always wanted to see TSA's back room at BOS (Logan International Airport).

Mick: Damn, a plane full of oversized carry-ons and I get nailed by the bag Nazis. Will never see my gear again, I know it. This is why I drive.

Mick: Woman in seat next to me has two bags too big for overhead compartment or under seat, blocked aisle for 5 min, now has them piled around her.

Later, racing through another airport on his way to a connecting flight to his final destination.

Mick: This leg promises to be much worse than last, a bunch of rowdy drunk middle aged women are on board and my bag isn't.

He arrives at his destination, makes it to the hotel and starts to feel better about the world.

I survived the cab ride! Took a nap and a shower, ready to face the world. As long as the world has coffee, and lots of it.

"Mick" and "Larry" are two IT security practitioners from two different states and companies.

This story, "A Day in the Life of Two IT Security Curmudgeons" was originally published by CSO.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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