They have the keys to the kingdom, and sometimes they use them when they think no one's around. Given their almost unfettered access to company networks, some rogue admins can't help but snoop.
Josh Stephens says he's worked with numerous sys admins over the years who've been fired for reading other people's email -- or worse. One day about five years ago, Stephens says he was running a WebEx demo for 30 executives, showing off how SolarWinds' Netflow tool could let you see what any user on the network was doing at any time. During the demo he picked an employee at random -- a tech admin -- and drilled down on his desktop.
"We saw he was on Monster.com updating his résumé, he had a World of Warcraft session open, and he was running a terminal server session to access the computers at the company he used to work for," says Stephens. "I tried to back out of there as quickly as I could, but everybody saw it. I felt bad for the guy but ... he wasn't working there much longer after that."
Joe Silverman, CEO of New York Computer Help, says in 2009 his computer repair service came to the rescue of a public relations firm that was being stalked by a former IT admin. The employee would remotely access the company network when he thought no one was in the office and snoop around the desktops of employees, who were mostly attractive women in their 20s. He pawed through their photos, spied on their calendars, and bcc'd himself on all their emails.
"He knew their schedules, so he would access their computers while they were at lunch," says Silverman. "If one of the women came back early they'd see the mouse cursor moving on its own, or they'd end up getting in a tug of war with him over control of their systems."
Silverman says they managed to lock the IT voyeur out by changing the admin passwords and cutting off all his access privileges -- and that's where the matter ended. The owner of the PR firm didn't want to pursue charges.
Sometimes when geeks go wild, they do more than just look. About eight years ago managed security services firm NetSec was called in to help a well-known magazine publisher identify a rogue admin, says Ammon, who was CEO of NetSec when it was acquired by Verizon in 2006.
That publication, famous for photos of attractive young women in bikinis, was running an online contest where readers could vote for the next cover model. But the admin hired to manage the back end of that contest had a different agenda.