October 21, 2022
Scary Stories to Tell in the Data Center II: The Sequel
The spookiest tales to ever haunt the data center return, more bone-chilling and server-frying than ever.
The OWL (The Only WAN Left)
After The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
I have no reason to believe, that Edgar was joking when he perceived,
the crow was mocking him to and fro, when he exclaimed “Nevermore.”
See I myself have experienced, a bird of prey that was quite contemptuous,
while connecting networks that needed mapping, one dreary midnight at the CISO’s nagging.
On the ground floor, yep, I remember, there I stood, not quite November.
I heard it once, my mind must be tricking, but then again, the sound was so sickening.
The click, click clicking of a server trying, to reboot, but something is frying
It was the sound of ancient lore; Trying to reboot, but nevermore.
I hit the fans, but little happened. Sparks flew and wires started zapping.
Terror and horror in my heart had filled, my job on the line, that is until
I remembered the guarantee’s not over. My soul grew strong. Surely, it’s covered.
I raced to the closet where we kept the files, the contracts and documents went on for miles.
Finally! I see the brand’s letterhead on top, but in 2003, the company went belly up!
Home I should go, to my puppy, Lenore, but a sound echoed through the server door.
Back I went into the room turning, all my soul within me burning.
Then I heard a different sound, a tapping, not a clicking and closer to the ground.
This must be a mouse, the wind, nothing more. But something compelled me to explore.
I was aghast at what I found, a tiny barn owl rooting around.
180 degrees its head went turning, then straight at me it started soaring.
Backwards I fell into a box that tore, and then faintly the bird cackled, “Nevermore!”
Startled at the stillness broken, by a reply so aptly spoken,
I sat engaged in guessing, what else this fowl might be confessing.
Has this hoot whose beak is hollering, whose eyes now burned into my core.
Was it my cables that they be bothering, which started the clicking from before?
Then, I started myself to thinking, was it this ominous bird of yore?
What did this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
mean in croaking “Nevermore!”
I sat a while longer with my head stable, inside a broken box of cables
Are you a bird or a devil? A prophet preaching or a thing of evil?
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed you here ashore,
Before I return from this hellscape of madness, and declare to the CISO all of his sadness,
Tell me please I implore, will this server with all of its data, ever again reboot once more?
Quote the Owl, “Nevermore.”
The Call is Coming from Inside the… School?
It’s just after midnight, and the school is silent. Moonlight shines bright into the locker-lined hallway. All is as it should be… or is it?
Our ingenue IT admin shouldn’t be here this time of night, but the system upgrade required some midnight oil. She is on her way back from her third cup of teacher’s lounge coffee. An empty high school is never not creepy at night, but something about this shift feels... off.
As she passes by the LED monitor that plays the morning announcements, it begins to flicker. She stops in her tracks and stares hard at the screen, but it’s gone dark. Perhaps a trick of the lights. Then, another step forward, and the screen fills with static. A high-pitched screech blares over the school PA system, and her Per My Last Email mug clatters to the ground as she covers her ears.
The blaring stops and the only sound she can hear is her own heartbeat. Then…
Ba… by… SHARK DO DO DO DO DO DO
The digital signage across the school lights up, playing the dreaded music video, and the PA system has been possessed. It’s deafening, it’s torturous, and it just won’t end.
DO DO DO DO DO DO
She sprints back to the IT closet, but nothing works. No backups, no system reset – the entire school is at the mercy of Baby Shark, and she can’t figure out why. Desperate, she sprints back to the science classroom, hands shaking as she jiggles the key into the charging cabinet.
BABY SHARK DO DO DO DO DO DO
All of the Chromebooks are nestled in and accounted for. All except one…
DO DO DO DO DO DO
It’s too late. The missing Chromebook is the answer. Whoever is doing this was already on the network.
She had to save herself. The IT admin ran off into the night, the siren song echoing in her ears, never to be seen again.
They say you can still hear a low, ominous do do do do do do in the hallways late at night, months after remediation…
A Two Sentence Horror Story
The server admin stops dead in his tracks, white as a ghost. “I forgot to run the backups last night.”
A Data Center Nightmare
Nancy begins to drift off in the back of the meeting room. It was her 9th meeting of the day regarding data center cabling polarities, Tom the data center admin’s favorite subject. She is startled by what appears to be her old boss, Tara, the lead network engineer, who suddenly appeared in the hallway outside the meeting room, peering inside.
“Nancy… the data is compromised… there’s been a data breach... a breeeeach” Tara’s voice ghostily warbles. Nancy’s eyes grow wide.
“Tara, you’re not dead, you moved to Illinois. I saw your new job post on LinkedIn yesterday.”
The others in the interminable meeting look at Nancy, confused, as it seems Nancy is just speaking to a window.
“Nancy, did you have a question on our new cabling procedure?” Tom the senior data center admin asks.
Nancy grabs her coffee mug and drinks vigorously. “No, no, nothing here. No problem.” Nancy glances back to the window and Tara is no longer there, just a pile of CAT cables. She settles back into her seat and her eyelids get heavy.
“Now when it comes to multimode versus plastic optical fiber…” Nancy excuses herself to use the restroom to investigate the tangled jumble of CAT cables.
Nancy opens the door and sees the cable now extends down the hallway, into the stairwell. She follows the cable down several flights of stairs, until she reaches the cobweb-covered sign that reads “Data Center: NO UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY!”
“Huh, I don’t remember this sign.” Nancy tries turning the door handle, feels a tap on her shoulder, and nearly jumps out of her shoes. She turns around and it’s Tara, wearing a red and black striped sweater.
“NANCY! You read the sign. No unauthorized entry!” Tara cackles with her ten-inch long silver nails and holds her ID lanyard. Nancy looks down where her lanyard is normally pinned to her slacks and notices it’s gone. When she looks up, Tara’s gone too.
Nancy turns the handle and enters the dark data center. The server cabinets are caked in cobwebs and the cages are unlocked. It’s hotter than a sauna and twice as humid, making it hard to see aside from the vague blinking of server lights. She hears whispers somewhere in the haze: “Our data isn’t HIPAA compliant, GDPR compliant, heck we don’t even have physical security to lock this place up. What the heck is the edge? Do you mean the Canadian wrestler or the lead guitarist from U2?”
“No… no… this must be a nightmare.” Nancy says out loud. “I’ve got to wake up! This isn’t happening.” She begins to run but is consumed by the fog.
She feels tapping on her shoulders again and finds herself back in the meeting room. “Nancy… wake up. The meeting is over. Sorry it wasn’t as exciting for you but the thing about cable polarity is…”
“Tom, shut up for a second about the cables. Our data center is still managed by CDW right?”
“Yes I think our contract…”
“And we’re industry-compliant, right? No data breaches? It’s not roasting like a sauna down there, right? No one’s in there that shouldn’t be?”
“Yes, Nancy, all is well. You must be stressed from work this week. How about you go home early and rest up? We’re in good hands.”
Tara goes back to her desk and checks LinkedIn to make sure Tara isn’t a ghost. Sure enough, she made another post showing her new swag from her new company, CDW, with the caption: “Do data center concerns have you spooked? See what data center solutions we have to offer and check out our managed services.”
“Phew ok. Everything’s fine. For now…”
An ordinary overnight IT shift. No one else on site for the next several hours. Or so it seemed to the IT admin, as he settled in at his desk and opened the browser on his laptop, ready for a quiet, boring evening.
That is, until the phone rang.
No one ever called the help center this late, not after the witching hour. And yet a woman on the other end of the line was annoyed, asking for help with her password. She’d been locked out of her device. The admin found the locked account remotely and asked her to enter her password. She told him it hadn’t worked when she tried. He figured perhaps she was using last month’s password and suggested as much. The admin entered the new monthly password and gave her the new information to log in next time. She hung up, and that was the end of it.
Or it would have been. Until an hour later, when the phone rang again.
Another user, calling from the very same location as the first. She’d been locked out of her account too. Same as the first caller.
The admin, surprised, fixed her issue as well. An odd coincidence, he told himself.
Or it would have been.
Another user called, an hour after that. The same location. The same issue.
And another user after him.
The phone rang again. And again. And again.
A chill crept down the IT guy’s neck. All around him, the office was silent, except for the dull hum of the fluorescent lighting and the endless, hollow shriek of the phone. It no longer felt like coincidence, and he was a little too frightened for it to feel like much of a practical joke. Perhaps it was the madness of the late night shift setting in…
The phone rang again, startling him out of his thoughts. He stared for a long moment, then reached out with a trembling hand and picked up.
From the other end of the line, the very first woman’s voice. Only it had changed: no longer annoyed and professional and bored, but raspier, almost a growl. Her laughter gurgled darkly in his ear. “Seven devices,” she warned him.
The IT guy slammed the phone down so hard, the plastic receiver creaked in his grip.
It was just a prank, he told himself, trying to make himself believe it. A prank. And yet he found his hands moving on their own, returning to the keyboard. He tried to stop himself, but his fingers were already typing, his mouse clicking, as he checked the status of network devices in that exact office location.
He scanned the screen, his eyes widening slowly in horror.
It was as exactly as she said: Seven devices, seven users, all locked out of their accounts.
It couldn’t be. It couldn’t. His mind was racing, strained by the impossibility of what must have occurred.
She had locked herself out of her PC. And then had gone to six other PCs at the office, trying the wrong password 3 different times on each device, locking them all out. Long before she ever called, it had already over for him.
He found himself smiling. His lips trembled, a burst of crazed laughter escaping him.
The day shift found him the next morning, wide-eyed, still howling with laughter. “Seven devices!” he was heard screaming as they escorted him away. “Seven devices!”
On his desk, the phone continued to ring and ring.
Zombie Bytes: Night of the Living Drive
You’ll wonder why you didn’t notice it sooner. By then it will have been too late.
It started with deniability. Was your computer always this slow, or were you just misremembering? Sure, applications take a few extra seconds to load up, but that’s just how computers age. Right?
Then, you realize you can’t keep more than a few applications open at a time. A web browser and a spreadsheet document open at the same time? Be prepared for long waits while the computer catches up. But you can work around that. Only open one or the other! Things are still fine?
Then, the first real concern: the startup.
Sure, it takes a minute for your computer to turn on, but why are you suddenly able to brew a pot of coffee before the login screen comes on? And why are you putting your credentials in, only to wait another few minutes for the desktop to load? You could have cooked a full breakfast in the time it took from opening the laptop lid to getting to your inbox. Too many apps opening on startup? Didn’t shut down properly? No, you checked all that. It must be something else.
Finally, the undeniable truth comes. Your computer is grinding to a halt. Even typing a simple email has so many onscreen lags that you could type the entire thing out, walk away, and the screen would keep makings words appear as if possessed by an email poltergeist.
And that’s not all. The computer is groaning and moaning with every movement. An ongoing cry and wail that can only come from the undead.
At that point there’s no denying it: you’ve got a zombie computer. What should have moved on has somehow come back to live, reanimated to do the tasks it did while still spiritly and new. Now it moves slow, painfully keeping you from being productive and able to get anything done.
There’s only one way to handle a zombie computer, and you know it must be done: you need to call IT and get rid of that zombie computer before it costs you a lost file, a crashed drive, or another lack of productivity headache.
IT is there to help. They’re computer zombie experts after all. Within days the solution arrives on your doorstep: a brand new computer, free of the zombie bytes that infected your previous computer. You salvage what you can, box the zombie computer up, and send it off to be put to rest.
The day is saved. Your new computer works great with no slowdowns, crashes, or inexplicable groaning. It doesn’t take long for you to forget about the zombie computer.
But after a few years, a familiar thought comes into your head: is your computer running slower than usual?
A Ransomware Horror Story
Witches, goblins, and ghosts aren’t the only things that go bump in the night when you work in the world of IT. There is really nothing scarier in information technology than ransomware. This one horror story was an unfortunate run in I had with JohnDoe ransomware. Shall we begin? Gather around the digital fireplace.
There was once a manager that called us for support like clockwork to help fix his IT issues, always miniscule issues from user error. One week he forgot to pull up his passcode to connect to the VPN. During The Incident, he blatantly ignored the pop up that prompted him to create a new password. I tried to warn him that changing passwords is a best practice, but he brushed it off. “Who would ever want to hack us, a large corporation with the best security systems in place?” he asked.
If only he knew. They target everyone who can pay. And one suspicious email in his inbox changed his perspective forever.
The fated call is from the same manager that had previously scoffed at the idea of periodic password resets. In a concerned tone, he said “My screen turned black, and I can’t open any of my files or programs.”
My heart immediately sinks to the pit of my stomach and my head is thinking “RANSOMWARE!” The optimism in me is hoping that it is something else – anything else.
“Is anyone else in your department experiencing this issue?” I asked.
“No, it’s just me.”
“When did this start to happen?”
“Yesterday towards the end of the day, but I thought it would just fix itself.”
After a deep breath, an internal scream, and a long pause, I instructed him to turn off his computer and wait for me to arrive back on-site to check it out. After powering up his computer and looking at the domain controller and file server, the server had gotten hit with JohnDoe ransomware. It had spread from his computer to the server through mapped network drives. I discovered that he had clicked on a hauntingly convincing link in an email that looked like it came from an executive.
Many hours later, I did a fresh install on all the computers in the entire office with a brand-new domain controller, which ultimately defeated the ransomware. I also migrated everyone over to a new work email platform which gives the user more control of spam filtering. Take that, JohnDoe! My work here was done.
It was a frigid, fall night. The wind howled outside as the moon’s glow filtered through the IT employee’s window. He glanced at the framed picture of his daughter. Oh how he wished he could see her in her princess costume trick-or-treating tonight.
He was responding to some emails when, suddenly, he became aware of the deafening silence. The lights were turned off in all the other offices. Another late night alone. He takes off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose.
The phone rings. Ring…Ring. As he reaches to pick it up, the ringing stops. The silence grows louder.
He looks around the room before standing up to lock his door.
Ring. He throws his hand out to grab the phone. “Hello?”
“Thirteen days…we have thirteen days.”
The terror in the man’s voice sends a chill down the IT employee’s spine. “What’s going on? Thirteen days for what.”
The man replies quietly, his voice barely above a whisper. “Thirteen days. I can’t do this.”
Click. Dial tone. Silence again.
The man’s desperate whispers seem to hang in the air. With the hairs on the back of his neck still standing, the IT employee decides it’s time to call it a night. No good ever came from answering these late-night calls anyway. After all, he was just one man.
He’s just finished packing his bag when the phone rings again.
“Hello,” he answers warily.
“Hello! Hello! Help us, please. The last guy just quit on us,” a woman stammers over the phone. Her shrill voice rings clear, but her tone is laced with an undeniable fear.
Before he can speak, she continues. “Our cloud storage company just filed for bankruptcy. We have thirteen days to migrate to a different provider.”
The IT employee’s eyes widen. “And how much data do you have in the cloud?”
The woman lets out a low, shaky breath. “Over 100 terabytes.”
Whether you’re beginning to consider the cloud or are ready to begin workload migration, CDW experts will help you select the right cloud provider and design the perfect solution. We can help your organization keep your IT environment productive, secure, and VERY flexible.