back to article Staff sacked after security sees 'suspect surfer' script of shame

As your Vultures are off fighting over the remains of the Christmas dinner, we've lined up a feast of a different nature: a bonus instalment of Who, Me? This week, we hear from reader José, who wrote in to tell us how a prank led to some of his former colleagues getting their marching orders. It was back in the late '90s, and …


    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps they should apply the same rules on PCs on the Parliamentary Estate

      "and sack any offenders they find"

      Employees: it already happens (quite regularly)

      Elected(or appointed) "honourable" members of the houses - these are "self employed" and _can't_ be sacked, except via the polling booth.

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We used to do the same thing back in the 1990s, but this wasn't a joke. After someone was caught with some CP on-prem we installed proxy and monitoring software, I wrote the log extraction scripts that gathered, sifted and ranked the internet proxy data and sent the weekly reports to the Sec team. We didn't tell anyone we were doing it but some people found out the hard way that surfing on the salubrious areas of the internet on work kit will get you a warning and sometimes marched offsite.

    I even had to write a testing util that had a list of 50 bad sites it would randomly pick out to test that the filter was working. Let's just say that the scum moved onto the internet very early, scanning for rascist, gambling and sex sites back in the 1990s when there were almost no guidelines meant the second you got "on site" you got the full blast of the mental sewage that some people carry around in their heads.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      The very dark side of internal security

      We used to do the same thing back in the 1990s, but this wasn't a joke. After someone was caught with some CP on-prem we installed proxy and monitoring software,

      We had one of those, but luckily we'd already got the proxy and logging. So police called, offender got fired on the spot and I think 5 years. Raised some interesting questions though, like making sure the logging could be useful as evidence. Plus policies and support for the ISG folks who sometimes had to look at some really nasty stuff. We ended up with a system where HR, ISG and counsel would view evidence and make a decision, and sometimes you could tell by their look that they'd seen something very bad.

      It still suprises me that employees still do this though, despite warnings.

  2. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I remember we played a prank on one of my colleagues back in the early 2000s who liked to waste time browsing ebay rather than working. So we changed the host file on his PC so that the ebay website would resolved to some pr0n website.

    Then we all waited for him to fire up his browser and surf to ebay. You have never seen someone shut down their browser so quickly. None of us had considered the fact that his browsing history might get him fired, but he managed to get himself sacked anyway about a year later when he was caught nicking parts from the stock room.

  3. Paul Stimpson

    Who watches the watchers?

    A friend of a friend was charged with monitoring web access, viewing questionable material to verify it was a breach of company policy and collecting evidence to initiate disciplinary proceedings at a major banking company.

    One day he told my friend that he'd discovered a prolific offender. "I can't believe this person. They spend over 6 hours a day surfing porn and don't seem to do any legitimate work. They're done as soon as the request to return a user name for the IP address comes back."

    The next day, he was much less excited. "You know that person who was surfing porn 6 hours a day?" "Yeah..." "It was me."

  4. Triumphantape

    Who does this at work?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Running a business

      My favourite wasn't porn but printing. We did a traffic analysis on a certain government department as part of planning a printer upgrade. Strangely, a number of print jobs had names like "Invoice xxx" but the work of the department didn't involve invoicing.

      Sure enough, a soon to be ex member of staff was found to be running a business at work down to printing invoices on HMGs printers and sending them out via the print room. And this had not been noticed for quite a while.

      As a result, no example of government incompetence can possibly surprise me any more.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Running a business

        Thank you for confirming that.

        When I was working at while doing my OU degree, I used the office printer to print off all my readings, course material and so on. I suspected everything was logged, so when printing PDFs always saved them as WorkRelatedThing.pdf before printing, rather than OpenUniversitySubjectManual.pdf

        They say I'm paranoid ... I intend to stay that way.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Running a business

          That's not paranoid. That's pragmatic.

  5. Jonathon Green

    Once upon a time in the (relatively) early days of Ye Olde Internette it was not unknown for completely innocuous, even professionally relevant material to be hosted in the same place as Very Much NSFW material, sometimes even under the same domain name.

    It’s really, really, really awkward when that gets picked up by a trawl for workplace smut surfing. DAMHIKIJK....

  6. Maelstorm Bronze badge

    How stupid can people be? Very, apparently...

    Seriously people, here in the US, the employer is providing you with a PC and a network connection on their dime, and they expect you to do work on their behalf while on the clock. Not sit there and flap to porn all day. They will usually tell you that they are watching.

    There was an incident back in the 1990's at my old employer which caused a bit of a ruckus. What happened was a group of technicians was watching porn on one computer, creating a hostile work environment. One employee told a supervisor and nothing happened. The they told that supervisor's boss and nothing happened. Finally, that employee told the boss's boss's boss and something finally happened. An investigation ensued and twelve people were sacked, and several others were suspended. After that, the entire company got a mandatory course in how to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace.

    Seriously, how stupid can people be? Apparently very stupid.

  7. Sequin

    I once got access to the proxy at a tourist place I worked and the boss looked at the logs and discovered that a couple of users had been accessing a site called "Rubbermaid" - very kinky! A warning email was sent out which caused much hilarity when it was pointed out that is totally SFW and they are suppliers of cleaning equipment, bins, mats etc.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah I ran those queries too, found some, umm, 'interesting' habits among the more mundane porn, couple of gambling addictions, some dodgy site with ladies and gentlemen of negotiable affection and a weird highlighter fetish which, to this day, umm, let's just say I try not to touch writing implements on anyone else's desk...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I guess that well-known sub-brand of highlighter pens are called "Boss" for a reason...(!!!!)

      I suppose it explains their slightly unusual wedge shape, too...

  9. Morten Bjoernsvik

    proxy managing

    Back in last decade I set up a proxy service to ease the cost on our frame relay. but this proxy service came with extensive logging and grouping of service. Turned out more than 30% was web pages categorized as having "adult content".

  10. Steve C#

    This is why we have firewalls

    We have a WatchGuard firewall to protect our network and to protect users from doing stupid things that will get them into trouble. At one of my former employers a senoir vice president was let go for accessing porn websites.

  11. jimbo60

    unfortunate name similarities

    My kids' K-12 charter school system with a classical education focus uses a .org web site that has 'titans' (of Greek mythology) in the name, as that is the school system's mascot. Unfortunately, for quite some time the same web url but with .com instead of .org was a site celebrating large breasted women.

    The offending .com name appears to no longer be in use, but I wonder how many young kids (and parents) accidentally typed in the wrong name. I know I did several times, including at work, leaving me scratching my head wondering why the company's firewalls were blocking a school web site.

  12. tiggity Silver badge

    Dolls House & ex colleagues

    Used to be an unfortunate search term.

    Back in the day when looking for Dolls House bits & bobs for the sprog, many results were not for small dimension houses, furniture, dolls etc. but were brothels / smut sites

    Being UK based I had not realised likelihood of doll with the US double meaning

    Though fortunately this was on home PC

    On work related theme, a long time ago (late 90s), a bloke was sacked for their downloads - not sure if it was usenet new content grab or whether it was spider & download tool (he was a dev so quite possible he had written his own downloader) - My boss told us about culprits dismissal reasons and just said it was automated background download of pr0n content, so culprit was never viewing anything on his PC (so nobody would spot anything amiss if they walked past him). Culprit would then copy files to external storage (back when external device access to PC far less locked down than now). That caused company to actively inspect what sites / content were accessed by people (he was caught because amount of bandwidth and amount used outside of break time triggered investigation, that later led to discovery of the type of content) - amazing how lax things were back in the day.

  13. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    Back in my days in the public sector I used to manage the corporate proxies. HR received reports of suspect surfing, not just porn obviously, but other proscribed categories and also excess use of none work related sites. From these reports HR would decide who needed further action, from verbal to written warnings to full on dismissal.

    After one suspect tried to claim that the sites she had been viewing were not what their URLs suggested it was decided that all such sites should be viewed by HR before action was taken, in order to weed out the false positives. HR came up with a protocol for these viewings, a member of HR would come up to IT where they would kick themselves in a meeting room with a member of the IT team to view a sample of the suspect sites. As three administrator of the proxies I was nominated IT person.

    As I said the suspect sites weren't always porn, but they often were. All the members of the HR team we female and I'm not. Furthermore one of the ladies from HR was married to a member of my team. As such I sometimes had to go and kick myself in a meeting room with the wife of Pune of my team and look view porn. This was the nineties so we're not talking 4K video, but porn nonetheless. Needless to say this did not go down well with my colleague.

  14. Martyn 1

    Back in the '90 I worked for a big computer co, so we had internet and USENET access, though the dodgy groups weren't available from the UK, but it didn't take much to figure out that if you proxied your USENET traffic via one of the German offices (where they were more enlightened ;-) ) then you could get everything. One of our devs did that and was amassing a lot of pr0n which he was then taking home on floppies!!!. Then one morning our manager took me to one side and said a complaint had been made by a staff member over something she "thought" she had seen on a screen, he told me he was going to instruct me to scan all the dept's workstations for pr0n the next morning and he didn't expect me (nudge nudge) to find anything unsuitable for the workplace; so after a friendly word in the dev's ear everything was wiped, I blocked access from our systems to the German proxies and told him in no uncertain terms that if he tried getting around it any other way I would find out and I would feed him to the boss, and everything blew over.

  15. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Director Ozzle came out of the proxy too close to the NSFW system!

    "I wouldn't show your face back in London anytime soon," his colleague told him.

    Yep, acid and knife attacks are up. Wouldn't want to be on the list.

  16. Gordan

    South Park Season 20?

    Isn't this the core theme of the entire season 20 of South Park? Holding the entire world to ransom by threatening to publish everyone's browsing history?

    Troll Trace. :-)

  17. stick box

    Privacy invasion brings some laughs

    Years back in a very large engineering firm. The IT dept demonstrated it's snooping power by emailing the entire UK workforce, over 1000 staff with a list of the top 10 most hit websites of the previous day.

    6 of the 10 on the list were recruitment websites. To this day I have no idea who on earth thought this could be read as anything other than a clear message that it was time to jump ship. Oddly, another 2 sites in the top 10 were Barbie memorabilia.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great story, instantly reminded me of another classic tale (in Russian)

    TL;DR: In a big corporate network, connected to the world with 10 Mbits main and 2 Mbits backup, local BOFHs posted monthly a top 20 traffic users and top 20 URLs visited by said users. In a Russian Russia there were no GDPR in 1990s. All was well until someone highlightered up on a printout a 12 Gigs of traffic (a huge volume of data back then) from a certain site named The culprit was 60 years old distinguished gentleman. He resigned within three months "due to difficult circumstances".

    My own story, an educational organization, not much of a big network, 5 Mbits uplink, a rack of 24 Zyxels for remote users access, and a lots of traffic quotas overruns. Quotas were set department-wide and in case of overruns we usually sent a list of offenders (and a most visited sites, yes) to dept head and let them deal with offenders internally. This backfired wonderfully one day then we were asked for a "forbidden sites list" from freshly connected department.

  19. I3N

    Did you know that was about pr0n ... cinched it with lack of certificate!!!

    So in the good 'ol days working with a lot of drones, my IP address got nicked ... FTP would sometimes show a printer ...

    I guess I was in the airport in Houston when an story came on about littlebrother software ....

    Back in office loaded it up and instantly could see who wasn't working ... I'd walk out into the hallway and shout "Knock it off [prefaced with I can see the web sites], I'm trying to find who has my IP address" ... that would work for about 20 minutes ...

    First IT job for funds outside my group, replaced some hard drives ... current support was too slow and sponsor was picky about putting all the screws back ...

    While transferring the files, some dodgy jpgs ... maybe ... remember it being a large file and loaded slowly only to be a big female ass ...

    Heard that IT sent note to that guys branch head about the activity ...

    Took that to my Branch and told him that it would be for his own good to pass it out ...

    Next meeting I completely lost it ... while being lynched by a bunch of drones ...

    So I'm in depositions and drone for IT was trying to bring that up as issue from 8 years prior ...

    They let this drone go off on leave during the physical round, so this was by phone ...

    Spoke to my lawyer on second line to ask drone if he has a forklift certificate and ... [see title]

  20. Danny 2

    Nederlands Sys Admin

    Last century I went to the Nederlands to become a Business Analyst, and instead they forced me to be the Sys Admin because my English wasn't good enough (Scottish accent). I was learning Dutch and they told me, "Don't learn Dutch, learn English". Rude as fuck is a national trait there.

    There systems were awful, set up by an irrational hobbyist with an unhealthy interest in porn. Wanking at his desk with his office door open unhealthy. About a quarter of our servers disk was smut, some of it highly illegal / instantly dismissible in the UK but I never knew what the laws were there.

    The incredibly expensive leased ISDN lines feeding the office were even more expensive because someone was logging in remotely and keeping them hot with porn (animal bestiality). The systems were so precarious that if I tried to refine them they'd collapse, and the users were all techies who were happy with the way things were. I put it out on the grapevine that usage was out of control and so was being investigated, and nothing changed. I then mentioned I was watching everything they were watching. I wasn't, but that put a stop to it. Even Dutch pervs happy to wank in an open door office don't want someone recording what they are doing over their shoulder.

    Usage surprised me, even back then it was equally men and women viewing porn, albeit some of the men had extreme 'tastes'. There was a couple of guys who didn't view any porn, but I assumed they just knew the systems better than me.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    male/female porn preference

    Sysadmins often claim that men and women seem to be equally interested in porn, but other people often claim otherwise. Certainly my direct anecdotal evidence says otherwise. Perhaps women who use networked computers in a mostly male environment are in this respect not a representative sample of women?


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