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Top 7 Things System Administrators Forget to Do
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5. Forgetting the Risks of Flash Memory Drives

USB flash drives can transport large files to colleagues or client's remote office and access data without worrying about compatibility. You can take work home or travel with data without needing a laptop. Unlike a CD-R disk, you can edit documents or data on the flash drive directly. You can also backup files.

But, flash drives can be a system administrator's worst nightmare. Viruses can be brought in from home, employees could make a "home copy" of a corporate software package, or, in the worst case, flash drives could be used in corporate espionage (e.g., where sensitive data like trade secrets or customer lists are stolen).

A poll of taken in the United Kingdom corporate IT managers revealed that:

  • 84 percent of businesses do not have security policies to prevent employees using removable media on their networks.
  • Half of respondents believe employees take unnecessary risks with critical corporate data.
  • Two in five admitted to having no idea whether removable media had been used to steal sensitive corporate information.
  • 85 percent of firms said that their employees use removable data devices throughout the company, transporting data between the office and home.

6. Forgetting to Manage Partial Root Access

Many administrators believe that using sudo in Unix-based systems or "run as" in Windows is a panacea to help delegate some system responsibilities to non-administrators without giving away full root access. sudo uses a setuid root binary to execute commands on an authorized user's behalf, after he has entered his current password.

While this may allow you to give out limited root access without giving away the root password, it is really only a useful method when all of the sudo users can be completely trusted. As an organization grows in size, administrators will often forget who has partial root access. Changes in personnel, management, users, and a lack of resources can leave ordinary users with access to programs that have known exploits. For that reason, in dynamic business environments, you cannot afford to lose control of the sudo users group. A solution to the problem involves centralizing management of sudo users.

7. Forgetting Courtesy

I wonder how many times this comes up. A month ago, a young lady in our office attempted to move a large conference table. The CTO and I made a valiant attempt to help her. We failed. The table weighed too much for us to move. The CTO looked around and asked two of our IT guys to help. You might think that they would have jumped at the chance to please the boss. The IT guys gave us the Mohamed Ali look. The young lady and I simultaneously uttered, "Don't ask them."

I had just joined the company and couldn't believe the stories I heard. The troublemaker came out in me and I went to my immediate supervisor to ask if the support people from the IT department really cast an evil eye when someone requests help. He answered in the affirmative and asked, "Aren't all IT guys like that?"

I understood the sour attitudes exhibited by our busy admins. I pulled weekend all-nighters many times. Fortunately, during my early days in help desk and call center training, someone instilled in me the need for a smile and a helpful attitude no matter how many hours of sleep I had. Courtesy and diplomacy became the hallmark of my work ethic.

Now, I said I have this troublemaker side. So, I wrote up a generic job description of technical support personnel. I put the description together from several job requirements listed on Monster and Dice job boards. I then presented it to my boss and made sure to read it over with him. Soon afterward, I saw a closed door and heard something like computer parts smashing against walls. The IT guys came out of their office looking ready to remove my head. They marched to the data center and didn't come out for a week. But a funny thing happened when they emerged from the data center; they had cooled down and both gentlemen apologized. They became models of courtesy.

I began asking people in other divisions within our company if their IT people acted like jerks. I learned we hadn't cornered the market of system administrators in need of anger management training. Somewhere along the line, a sour disposition took hold, and it never changed. It happens a lot in our world.

If you want support from management, consider remembering that the user you offend today could wind up on the board of directors. Regardless of that possibility, system administrators should always remember that their clients are internal and if you want to keep your job, be good to your clients.

Final Thoughts

Do system administrators really forget to do things because they're lazy or do the pressures of the job keep them from getting everything done? If the latter is true, then the less important to-dos may not get done. My experience tells me that a person can only do so much. If you have to work a 15-hour day just to get the basics done, then management needs to re-evaluate its commitment to the IT department. I believe that's the case.

Tom Adelstein became an author in 1985 and has published and written non-fiction books, journalistic investigative reports, novels and screen plays prolifically ever since.

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