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NSFW files slow military computer to a crawl • The Register


On Call Happy arrival to an On Call where site errors have resulted in the worst removals.

Our story, from a reader we have Regomized as “Jones”, takes place in the early years of this century and relates to some of the military equipment provided by his company.

While computers (running Windows) are not connected to the internet for obvious reasons, they are powerful beasts and are used to process images and operating equipment. During training, operators were told that while the kit is capable of playing music or movies, it is strictly forbidden to place DVDs or external storage devices into them. Nothing shall be entered into the various ports or slots without express permission from the designated person on the site.

Unfortunately, simply disabling USB sockets (or filling them with glue) is not an option because data sometimes has to be downloaded from the hardware. The same is used with the DVD drive.

Time has passed, and a particular site has developed the annoying habit of constant downsizing, sometimes several times a week.

“Part of our job,” Jones says, “is that when there’s a problem with a site, we drop whatever we’re doing and any way we have to get a technology on the site.

“Now I can tell you that going to certain sites takes a little bit of creativity and confidence. You call, we’re driving.”

And he pulled. With some military areas hiding deep in the desert, On Call is a particular challenge.

The computer itself has a very large (for the time) hard disk, divided into four partitions with two used for image storage. Part of the operator’s training is to take the current images, once they have reached a certain size, and move them to another partition for archiving, and then delete the original.

“On those partitions there are some hidden folders that store data about operating parameters and resource usage along with thumbnails,” Jones explains.

In this a deserted site, the computer continues to crash, or to slow down. After a few call-outs, Jones decided to dig a little and figure out what was wrong. Computers aren’t on the internet, don’t get updates, and every two months a full installation happens (“you know how Windows always works better on a new installation, “Jones commented).

So why did this one fail?

There is a small remaining part of the partition, which is intended for swap files. This is also where hidden files are hidden, made when, say, looking at images and watching videos.

Armed with an account of due privilege, our hero opens the secret folder and archive. And maybe wish he wasn’t.

“I found a ton of thumbnails with timestamps and source data for each…”

It would appear that the characters assigned to the post are a bit bored, and so sometimes pop in an external storage device to watch NSFW nature videos. Timestamps make it easier to identify culprits. Limited space means there is little exchange capacity, hence slow performance and occasional locking.

“Unfortunately for them,” Jones said, “even if they work very hard to cover their tracks, they miss the hidden archive file.”

What to do? Since poor performance and crash had nothing to do with what the computer was designed for, Jones chose to download the evidence and present it to the powers that be. He also changed the configuration so that only USB ports can be used to download data.

And the pair with bad military manners? Taken from their respective ranks, they spent the rest of their tour doing hard work before being sent back for an infamous exit and a stint behind bars, according to Jones.

Ever been called to deal with a performance problem and seen something you can’t see? Or telling users never, to do something you know they will do once the door behind you is closed? Share the call-out you want to forget using On Call email. ®



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