Joseph Mansfield


Friday the 18th.  Gannon and I gulped coffee as we began our shift.  Our beat is a number of tiny Novell 2.2s, dedicated, scattered across two states.  Our job:  To arrest data killers and bring them to justice.

0927 hours.  A salesman called, mumbling, “Connect ... abort ... retry ...”  We were gentle with him:  “Just breathe deeply ... that’s good.  Now the facts.”  We talked him through some maneuvers to no avail; his network was down.  We promised to help.  Luck was with us; the site was only a mile away.

0955 hours.  We arrived on the scene.  The server was evasive, claiming FAT write errors and shutting down its volumes.  We took it to headquarters for booking.

1033 hours.  We applied second degree interrogation, changing parts one by one.  The server varied its story through several boot attempts, but we learned it had taken a bullet through both copies of its FAT, trashing both in the same sector.  It was deranged and confused.  We called in Dr Novell, a local shrink.  She advised deletion and recreation of the server’s volumes.  We ran Install -M with Z-test.  The server booted.  We logged in.  We concluded the criminal must have been a power surge or static discharge.  We told our sergeant to drop charges against the server.

1247 hours.  We escorted the server back to its office.  It booted.  We were tying up loose cables when a strangled cry came from the rear office, “My data!  Receivables!”  We rushed to the doorway in time to see the CEO slump to the floor.  We checked his vitals, then called an ambulance.

1302 hours.  We interrogated the salesman.  We learned he had taped the network’s data the night before.  He clutched the tape as if his job depended on it.  Under threat of sub-poena, he handed it over.  We started a restoration.  It was successful.  The hospital called, saying the CEO had re-gained consciousness.  We told them to inform him he only lost an hour of input.  We returned to headquarters.

1338 hours.  The afternoon was quiet.  Tracy, retired from our force, dropped by and we told him about the day’s case.

Monday, 0800 hours.  We reported to work.  A fax from Tracy was waiting.  He recalled a case where a disk had used an intermittent rotational speed variation to destroy data, while disguising the job as a power hit.  He assured us that if a criminal disk killed data once with this scheme, it would kill again.  Its telltale clue:  Identical damage to both copies of FATs and directories.

1103 hours.  The phone rang.  Same site, same problem.  We were ready.  We brought in the server and arrested its hard disk, a Fujitsu 520Mb IDE, on charges of rotational irregularities.  We installed a Western Digital 540Mb IDE, restored network and data, and again returned the server to its office.  We sent the Fujitsu to its vendor, to be bound to the grand jury.


*     *     *


The story you have read is true.  The site has run several weeks on its Western Digital.  The grand jury returned an indictment charging the Fujitsu with criminal data assault.  They declined to say whether rotational variance was the weapon.





This article was written in December 1991 and published shortly thereafter in InfoWorld.  I do not know the exact date.  I do know that it was published on the readers’ contributions page, the inside back cover.  It was also published, like all other articles in that space, without compensation.


And I believe that it was the very next week that the magazine announced that subsequent contributions accepted for the readers’ page would be compensated at $100 each.


Alas, such is life.