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How should a tech deal with his boss accessing Internet porn from the tech's PC?

What would you do if your boss used your computer to access Internet pornography, thus violating a company policy? Read this tech's story and then share your insight and advice.


This week, support tech Philip discovers that his boss has been using his computer to access pornographic Web sites. Read Philip’s story to see if you can help him maneuver out of this potentially job-threatening situation. At the end of this article you can review the outcome of a previous What Would You Do? Scenario, “Tech feels penalized for reporting license violations".

Manager uses tech's PC to access Internet porn
Philip has been a support tech for a small, privately owned advertising company for barely three months. The IT department consists of Philip, another tech, and the IT manager. The other tech and manager have each been with the company for over ten years. The atmosphere is warm and friendly with many close personal friendships among the employees.

Everything was going well until a week ago when Philip arrived at work on Monday morning to discover that his boss had been using his (Philip's) computer over the weekend. At least, Philip assumed this to be the case, because the NetWare logon prompt displayed his boss's logon name instead of his. Usually, if anyone is working on the weekend, they discuss their plans to do so during the IT department's weekly meeting held every Friday. Because no such plans had been discussed the previous Friday, Philip immediately became concerned that either his boss had been called in to resolve a problem or someone else had used his logon name and password to access the network.

Without hesitating Philip walked straight into his boss’s office to report his discovery. To Philip's surprise his boss turned a slight shade of crimson and started hemming and hawing, apparently struggling to come up with an explanation. Eventually he admitted to using Philip's computer over the weekend, claiming that he had been called in to troubleshoot a problem with remote access and had been unable to use his own computer for some unspecified reason. After stumbling over this explanation he abruptly left his office muttering something about a meeting.

A little perplexed, Philip returned to his office. Later the same morning, he accessed his Internet browser history to find a Web site he had been using the previous week and was horrified to see a list of child pornography Web sites. To confirm his suspicions, he accessed one of the sites. Checking the dates and times, he learned that the sites had been accessed between 6:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M. the previous Friday. Philip had left the office at 5:00 P.M. and was dumbfounded.

Although Philip's company doesn't block Web sites or monitor Web access, they do use a program called Audit Wizard to audit a workstation's installed software, OS, configuration, hardware, and Internet history during each network logon. Philip opened Audit Wizard and ran an Internet access report and there it was staring at him accusingly from the screen, a record of every site in his Internet history associated with his computer. Nowhere in the audit did it indicate who was logged on to the computer at that specific time.

Philip printed a report from Audit Wizard and a print screen of his Internet history and then started to search for any type of evidence to conclusively prove who was logged in to his computer from 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. on Friday. He could find nothing on his computer and, as he doesn't have administrative access on the network, was unable to conduct a search there.

Now Philip doesn't know what, if anything, he should do. Philip's boss is the only person in the organization with administrative access to the network and Philip hasn't been with the company long enough to anticipate how any course of action would be perceived. Should he confront his boss? Should he take the matter to HR, or should he simply try to erase the evidence and forget the whole incident? What if it happens again? What if someone else sees the history in Audit Wizard, which Philip doesn't have sufficient access to delete? If Philip presents the evidence to HR in an attempt to protect himself against future discovery, does he run the risk of simply being fired? Philip does know that the HR manager and his boss frequently go to lunch together. Philip's the new kid on the block and simply does not know how to proceed.

If you were in Philip’s situation, what would you do? If you have any advice to offer Philip, or have been in a similar situation yourself, we want to hear from you.

We want to hear what you have to say!
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

Tech feels penalized for reporting license violations
In a previous article, we presented the case of Sheila, a support tech who was reprimanded by her boss and upper management for insisting that the company purchase the software licenses required to be legal. As always, TechRepublic members were happy to share their suggestions and experiences with Sheila. Here are a few ideas for how Sheila could proceed:
  • Report the violation to the BSA. Member Cdwalton advised Sheila that she doesn't really have a choice—she is legally obliged to report the violation to the BSA. “If your job is making sure the [licenses] are secure and legit," Cdwalton wrote, "Then it is you[r] job to call the BSA…If you neglect to inform the BSA, you will lose your job if audited as your are responsible for licensing.”
  • Quit and find a new job. Member Deane75 suggested Shelia “shop [her] resume around as quickly as possible, and at [her] next interview, find a way to ask questions related to company ethics.”
  • Continue to try to persuade management to purchase the licenses, document everything. Member Ajbeer pointed out that if the company is investigated, this documentation could be her protection. “The several e-mail messages should serve to illustrate the tech's desire and attempt to do the right thing," Ajbeer wrote. "I would print the messages and take the printed copies home as well as journal the sequence of events with copious detailed notes for future reference.”

So what really happened?
Unfortunately, the actual outcome for Sheila was not a good one. “Within three months I left that company," Shelia told me. "I received a very good reference, but still—I was out of a job. Within six months, the company was covertly investigated, and it was fined a five-digit figure for software piracy. The IT manager called me—and verbally abused me for 'dobbing them in' [turning them in to the BSA], even though I had not. I found getting work [to be] very difficult after that.”

 

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