Stupid user tricks 7: True tales of extreme brain fail

Private bits on the public cloud, execs botching backups, the proverbial plug gone unplugged -- will users ever learn?

Ah, users -- if it weren't for them, technology would work so well.

As anyone who works in tech support knows, the most common cause of computer-oriented trouble is a little thing called user error. Sometimes, the mistakes people make are so absurd, all you can do is laugh.

[ For more real-world tales of brain fail, see "Stupid user tricks 6: IT idiocy loves company." | Find out the 12 most dreaded help desk requests which of our eight classic IT personality types and what those IT job postings really mean. | Get a $50 American Express gift cheque if we publish your tech tale from the trenches: Send it to offtherecord@infoworld.com. ]

We've tracked down six such tales of embarrassing brain fail. Read them, have a laugh, and -- most of all -- be glad you weren't the one who had to deal with the fallout.

And remember: While some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty, the stories, unfortunately, are all too real.

Stupid user trick No. 1: Cloud storage strategy gone wrong

Cloud storage can be a valuable tool for a business -- except, that is, when the business grossly misunderstands how cloud storage works.

Just ask the guy who picked up the pieces from our first tech fail. Dwight Zahringer, CEO of development firm Trademark Productions, was working to build a new website for a Detroit-based financial company when he came across an unexpected item in a public FTP folder.

"In our intake and review of [the old] website files, we found a suspect directory," Zahringer recalls. "We found a number of financial documents, pictures, and personal documents."

Personal photos in a public FTP folder? Eek. We can only hope they weren't, shall we say, too personal.

Private sightings aside, Zahringer knew he had his work cut out for him. He and his team started digging and discovered the rogue files all belonged to -- who else? -- the company's CEO. That, lamentably, was only the start of the saga.

"Upon further inspection, we knew that there was a very good chance [the files] could have been indexed in search engines, having been a part of the public root. Indeed, many of the documents and images were," Zahringer says.

How'd Mr. CEO manage to put his personal stuff in the company's public FTP folder? Simple: The company's IT guy told him to store the files there, so he could access them from home.

"The CEO did not trust a hosted free application like Dropbox," Zahringer explains. This, evidently, was the IT guy's solution.

Zahringer set out on a mission of damage control, quickly pulling the files and doing some server-side programming to stop further indexing. Of course, stuff on the Internet spreads like wildfire -- and extinguishing the flames is often easier said than done.

"There were instances of his personal photos showing up in Google Images," Zahringer says. "They were also reposted at other sites around the Web."

Beyond that, one of the CEO's personal real estate contracts had been repurposed as a downloadable template on some third-party sites. Long story short, it was one seriously hot mess.

"While we were able to limit any damage, embarrassment of the CEO was unavoidable," Zahringer says. "It also cost the CEO an additional $6,000 for our services to help with the matter."

The moral: Always ensure your cloud storage is secure before uploading private documents. If your storage is in the same place where your website files live, it's safe to say other people can see it. And if your IT guy tells you otherwise, for the love of GOOG, fire him.

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