Thursday, 19 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Virus Alert!

I was reading this article The 25 Best High-Tech Pranks and it reminded me of a practical joke that was played on one of my colleagues (henceforth known as the poor victim) some years ago. Remember I work in IT as does the poor victim of this practical joke which makes it all the more hilarious that he fell for it, you'd expect anyone with the smallest amount of IT knowledge to realise exactly what was going on.

I had been on holiday and on the morning of my return I was sat at my desk doing the usual catching up with emails etc when one of my colleagues (the poor victim) approached my boss (the department manager) to ask if it was OK to get some quotes from our suppliers for anti-virus software. My ears pricked up at this wondering what he was on about as the company was well covered with AV software and so there shouldn’t have been any additional requirements. He continued to explain to my boss (who must have also been away the previous week) that we needed to get AV software to install on the companies laser printers as we had had a virus outbreak on them the previous week. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing from him and I guess from the glazed-over dumb look he got from my boss neither could he. The poor victim continued to explain how when he was stood at the printer waiting for reports to come off he noticed the LCD panel was flashing messages such as “S.O.S.”, “...---...”, “Help, Virus Alert!” and the like. At this point I couldn’t keep a straight face and as much as I wanted to stay and listen to his story I just had to leave the room to burst into tears of laughter in the corridor. I was soon followed by a couple of other work mates who were also in hysterics and filled me in on what had happened.

We use HP LaserJet printers for all our reports and forms and as well as supporting the usual commands for printing text and graphics you can also send to the printer commands to alter various printer settings normally accessed through the on board control panel. Some of these commands allow you to display a message on the printer’s LCD panel. Every time the poor victim went up to the printer to collect a report another colleague would send an SOS message to the printer for the poor victim to see.

Well, the poor victim took it all a bit too seriously and really believed the printer was infected with a virus and made it his personal crusade to rid the company of the infection. He fished out the printer’s manual and read it cover to cover looking for anything that might enlighten him as to what was happening and after finding nothing there and with the printer still seemingly being infected even after a number of power cycles he did the only thing that was left for him to do and telephoned the manufacturers technical support line. This was some years ago before the Internet existed in its present form so he couldn’t just Google it for a solution.

Well from what I gather the tech support guy must have thought he had a lunatic on the other end of the line and did ask him “Do you have a practical joker in the office?” To which the poor victim replied “No, he’s on holiday!” I think the tech support started to play along as clearly there was no getting through to this man and so they continued to humour him by asking such things as “What’s the temperature in the office?” To which the poor victim responded by getting a thermometer and measuring the temperature. Eventually I think the tech support guy must have suggested to the poor victim that we should infest in some AV software for the printers just to get him off the phone.

Of course by then the poor victim was in his stride determined to get to the bottom of this and decided to check every printer throughout the company and as you can imagine he was greeted by similar virus alert messages on each one he checked. I can't remember if he ever did try to buy the software but I'm pretty sure he never discovered it was all just a prank.


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