Emails From the Command-Line: The Lost USB Stick

By Ethan Net on at

Saw my first grey hair this morning. That's what my colleagues at work have done to me, with questions like "what's that noise that sounds like a fan, coming out of my computer?"

Let's see if I can get through the week without being sarcastic or patronising to anybody – it shouldn't be that difficult, if I concentrate really hard. First phone call of the day comes mid-bacon sandwich: “Hi, er, I've lost my laptop.” The tone was expectant, as if I was going to reply with "that's OK; I'll go and find it for you". Which I didn't. I just stayed quiet waiting for the next line, which is usually “I had it stolen from a restaurant.” (When put through my internal translation app, it usually means "I went out last night and got smashed, and forgot I even had the laptop with me.")

"I had it stolen from a restaurant…" she added, right on cue. It was HR Susan, which doesn't surprise me -- I've seen some Facebook pics of her down the pub before she got her friends to take them down: screengrab and save that for later, thankyouverymuchly.

"Hang on," I reply, "the system says your laptop is in the building, logged on, and all OK?"

"Er, yes, I actually lost my own laptop."

Unbelievable. "Sorry Susan, there's not much I can do, as the company doesn't encrypt or remote back-up, like we do with the work ones." Honestly, do they expect us to install CCTV at their houses, too? "Report it to the police; get a crime number, and check your insurance. That's all I can advise really."

"Well, yes I've done that but, err, there's something else you should know."

This'll be good. "Oh yes? What's that then?"

“I was working over the weekend so I copied the whole HR folder from the server onto a USB stick. Err, that's gone too.”

I couldn’t think of what to say, and HR Susan didn’t help by asking “do you think it’ll be alright?”

Facepalm. Twice. This could actually be quite serious. But what can I do? Last time I looked, that folder had the whole company’s pay-roll details; private staff files with everybody’s medical records, and a list of contenders for the next round of redundancy. Think Ethan, think… Right, first thing I need to do is cover my own arse, and ensure nothing comes back to me. Next, prepare the boys upstairs for the news. Definitely get Colin to tell them, as they’ll go ballistic. I’m sure they won’t want their salaries; expenses and personal medical details plastered over the internet.

Hanging up from my conversation with Susan, I google the company name, then the bosses' names…nothing. Yet.

Our little crime victim HR Susan is next on my list, to find out if there’s a chance of getting that laptop back, along with the all-important USB stick. If it’s alright for MI5 to lose stuff, then it can’t be that bad for us, can it?

HR Susan is upstairs. I brush past Sophia’s desk looking serious and important – that’ll impress her.

“Hi Susan; I’ve been thinking some more...I was just wondering if there's any chance of retrieving that laptop at all, or at least do some damage control on this one” I heard myself say, before realising I watch too many movies.

“I’ve been to the restaurant, they only had a raincoat; a rubber glove and a shoe left there at the weekend. No computer.” What sort of restaurants does she go to?

“OK, let me take a look at exactly what’s in that folder, then” I reply, as I sit in front of her work computer. I ask her to login, and can’t help but see her fingers press ‘Password1,’ reminding me I must force a password change on the company soon.

I look around for the server; open the HR folder and start to go through the hundreds of files containing people’s secrets. Hang on...there’s another folder called "HR" on her desktop. Upon opening it, I see that it’s a complete copy of the server folder, done last Friday. The penny drops.

“Err, Susan?” I ask, grinning. “When you copied over the HR folder to the memory stick, did it take a long time or just a few seconds? It’s a 14GB folder and copying onto a USB stick would have taken awhile.

“It was instant,” she replied. Result! Susan didn’t manage to copy the data onto the stick; just her own desktop. The sense of relief was amazing. Well, for me anyway. I didn’t tell Susan that of course; it pays to have a massive favour owed to you by HR, I should think.

With the latest crisis averted; a new best friend in the form of HR Susan; a doe-eyed Sophia looking impressed as I breeze past her desk on the way back downstairs, and it's home time. Which means it's pub-time. But wait! What’s that in the mirror? It can’t be, can it? It flippin’ well is! Another grey hair! That’s two now!


Ethan Net is a pseudonym for an overworked and underpaid IT Manager. It doesn’t matter where he works or who he is — unless he happens to be your IT Manager. Look out for his column every Wednesday afternoon here on Gizmodo UK.

Image Credit: Server Room from Shutterstock