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October 03, 2012  |  Guard cat on duty  |  8492 hit(s)

I'm working in a new job, and I was surprised not long ago to get an email from one of our senior developers that read something like this:[1]

To: [whole group]
From: [senior developer]
Subject: I love kittens because they're fluffy

This would be one of yer more wtf new-job moments. A few minutes later we got this:

To: [whole group]
From: [senior developer]
Subject: re: I love kittens because they're fluffy

I stepped out of my office for 30 seconds and I was in the office next door!

There was a reasonable explanation for all this, as it turned out, which involved security. Every company has security policies for computer use, of course, and larger companies might have dedicated IT folks who enforce such policies. One way they might enforce policies is to perform security audits of people's workspaces. For example, has someone written their password on a yellow note and stuck it on their monitor? Fail.

Another policy that the security folks might audit is the practice of locking your workstation when you step away from your desk. Obviously, if you walk away from an unlocked machine, anyone can jump on your computer and start hunting around for sensitive information.

Even a vigilant security audit team, however, can't watch everyone every minute. But I happen to work with a bunch of security-minded developers, so a protocol emerged that if they could catch you with your workstation unlocked, you were fair game to have a fluffy-kitten email sent from your computer. Our senior developer guy, in spite of his protestations, had been caught sneakily when he stepped out for the quickest of conversations.

I got filled in on this by another guy in the group (in fact, the guy who'd gotten the drop on the kitty-loving developer). He explained that the group—as I say, a security-minded bunch—had started it as a kind of game in order to help enforce security policy. The remarkable thing, he noted, was that once the kitty emails started, compliance with the rule about locking workstations had gone from around 10% to over 90% in just a few weeks.

Everything about this business amused me, from the kitty theme itself to idea of security enforcement by (mild) peer pressure. And it's certainly effective—you can bet that before I run to the kitchen or step next door for a wee meeting, I make sure that I've locked my computer.

[1] Some details changed for, um, security purposes.

Gandalfe   03 Oct 12 - 7:49 AM

I *was* gonna share this with my immediate team, but I know they would catch me that one time I didn't lock the computer.

Dirk   03 Oct 12 - 7:54 AM

So, you could send gratuitous kitten comments & people would just think you're lousy at locking your machine?

How about puppy comments?

mike   04 Oct 12 - 7:02 AM

@Dirk -- Technically, I could. But perhaps I'd want to include a disclaimer in the body of the email that explained that this was a legitimate pronouncement of Kitty Love, tho, just so people didn't think I had bad security habits.

Anonymous   20 Dec 12 - 10:10 AM

we just do a ctrl-alt-downarrow to flip their screens upside down :-)