The tale of the opportunist and some code

Employees and code stealing

In the mid '90s, I was working at a regional ISP, covering about half a dozen states as a systems engineer. Everything in the company ran on trouble tickets. Support issues, customer provisioning, even the sales people used the trouble ticket system to handle their order processing.

The ticketing system was a proprietary monster, coded from scratch by a single developer. It was a massive blob of C++, 30-line SQL queries, and X11/Motif code. It was tailored exactly to our company, our customer data, and our workflow. Everything was in this system. Customer data, billing, tech support issues, and sales orders. It worked so well that I've missed using it ever since I left. It did everything but brew our coffee.

One day this developer's desktop workstation died.

The next day, we found out that the only copy of the source code for the ticketing system was on his hard drive, and it was gone. For the next few days, the developer tried frantically to recover the data. At that time, we didn't back up workstations to tape, so we had no stored copy to recover. It seemed like we were between a rock and a hard place.

Then came Bob. Bob was a low-level NOC guy, rumored to have an FBI interview under his belt for some phreaking he'd done as a teenager. (I never found out if that was true.) Bob had, at some point, snagged a copy of the ticket system code to play with and learn. But instead of saving the day by handing his copy over, he quietly burned it to a CD and took it home. Then he discreetly attempted to sell it back to the developer.

Bob was also known for coming in at 9 or 10am reeking of alcohol, and talking to his drug dealer in "code" on his work line. (Really hard to decipher "code", you know, like "Hey, uh, you got the 'stuff', man?") Since he worked in a cubicle, it wasn't too hard to overhear these conversations.

I never got the full story of how this extortion attempt was resolved, but the buzz on the techies' underground gossip mailing list was that he gave the code back after being threatened with a call to the police and a civil lawsuit. He didn't work for us any longer after that.

I was just glad to have the code back.

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