Dirty IT jobs: Partners in slime

Carcasses, garter belts, and anthrax -- techs get nasty in the name of IT

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Dirty Job No. 2: The shadow

You probably don't want to know where your coworkers are going on the Web. But sometimes you have no choice. Nancy Hand knows this, well, firsthand.

Until three years ago, Hand was a network engineer for a large public utility in the Southwest. When any of that site's 3,000 employees got a malware infection, Hand received an alert via the utility's McAfee software. She was then called in to investigate by remotely combing through the employee's browser cache, looking for the source of the attack.

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Along the way, Hand got to see where these employees had been surfing while they were allegedly working. Most of the time what she found was benign -- a lot of sites devoted to cooking, fashion, cars, and day trading. Inevitably, though, she'd encounter the darker side.

Like the employee who swore it was a spam email that caused his browser to visit that members-only bondage site, though how that email also managed to create a member profile for him was less clear. (Hand says the head of  IT security jokingly awarded her the "Golden Garter Belt" for uncovering that one.)

Or the company vice president whom Hand discovered had been spending work time visiting TeenageVirginSluts.com. Naturally, he was the VP of IT.

"He was my boss's boss's boss," she says. "After I found this I contacted my manager and said, 'We have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of thing, so I am officially notifying you of what I found.' To my knowledge nothing was ever done. About a year later that VP got fired for another sexually related infraction."

Some employees ended up being escorted from the facility by armed guards, though Hand never knew whether it was due to something she had found.

"Sometimes it was a little unsettling to be on the machine of someone I'd met in another part of my job who seemed like a very toe-the-line type of person, only to discover it wasn't true," she said. "People aren't as innocent as they seem. And the next time they complained about catching a virus, I'm thinking 'Well, you sort of did this to yourself.'"

Dirty jobs survival tip: Be prepared to go it alone.

"Management didn't seem to take any of it very seriously, even after we got hit with a denial-of-service attack that put us out of business for almost an entire day," she says. "It all becomes political, even though you think it shouldn't be. The VP is given a pass, but the secretary gets fired."

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