Should I Have My Computer Scanned?

Question:

I recently returned from a business trip to Ohio. As a practical joke, some colleagues turned everything in my office upside down. I thought this was amusing. I then went to turn my computer on and discovered that someone had hacked onto my computer and installed an offensive screensaver, which was of course upside-down. They took a guess at my password and were successful.

I sent an e-mail complaining to my group (including our boss) explaining that while I found the disarray in office amusing, I did not appreciate someone going onto my computer. It is possible that whomever hacked onto my computer could have been involved in including downloading prohibited documents or visiting forbidden Internet sights. My colleagues are now upset with me for complaining – insisting I cannot take a joke. I am tempted to ask our IT department to run a scan on my computer and share with this information with HR and also let them know I was out of town when this activity occurred.

As far as I am concerned–only people who should have access to my computer at work are my direct supervisor, and his superiors and the folks in our IT department. Am I wrong to think this? Are there any laws on the books to prevent such hacking or unauthorized uses of an employee’s computer by his co-workers?

Signed,

Butt Of Joke


Answer:

DearĀ Butt Of Joke:

There are so many issues here I hardly know where to start, so I will begin with the questions you ask at the end of your letter, and limit my response to the computer issues you raise.

Access to computer resources should be allowed when there is a “need to know”. Depending on your business, it may not be necessary to allow even your supervisor access to your materials. But the IT department should have that access, and be able to grant it as necessary; for instance, if your supervisor needs access while you are not available, there should be a means to have IT allow that access.

Having equal coworkers sharing each other’s passwords is NEVER a best business practice.

Unless your coworkers broke copyright laws by downloading unauthorized copies of licensed software, there are probably no Federal laws against what they did. There may be state or local laws that address it, possibly as a computer crime or even as vandalism. Should this be a legal issue? I can’t advise you there. I’ll bet, however, your company would prefer you didn’t.

The more general issues are approximately as follows.

From an IT point of view, you have a responsibility as a computer user to ensure that the problems (security violations and possible unsafe documents) are remedied and will not recur. Failure to do this may even be a violation of company policy.

To ensure that any problems are remedied, have IT scan the computer.

You may be at fault for having an easily guessed password. To ensure that the problem won’t recur, choose more difficult passwords and change them often. All computer users have a responsibility to protect their passwords. They should be totally random and hard to guess. Use letters and numbers, and mix capitals and lower case letters. Family member names and significant dates should never be used.

There is another viewpoint, however: that of Human Resources. There are many HR-related issue here, all coming under the heading of “What to do when coworkers misbehave”. There’s plenty of advice available for this topic, and I won’t reproduce it here. But these questions might inform such a discussion: Was this an example of workplace harassment? Was there an active attempt to crack or hack your password? Why did the supervisor allow it to occur?

I hope this helps!

Best regards, Good humor and good sense should be related. You are wise to follow company policy and to be concerned, but guard against becoming obsessed with this overdone joke. For good working relationships, add good humor and good sense and think of and do what will contribute to effective and harmonious working relationships. That’s what we call WEGO mindedness. Do let us know if these thoughts help and how your frustrating situation works out.

Mitch Theophila