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IT Pro Gets Prison Time For Sabotaging Ex-Employer's System 265

Posted by Soulskill
from the fractions-of-a-penny dept.
itwbennett writes: "In June 2012, Ricky Joe Mitchell of Charleston, West Virginia, found out he was going to be fired from oil and gas company EnerVest and in response he decided to reset the company's servers to their original factory settings. He also disabled cooling equipment for EnerVest's systems and disabled a data-replication process. After pleading guilty in January, Mitchell has been sentenced to four years in federal prison."
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IT Pro Gets Prison Time For Sabotaging Ex-Employer's System

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  • Duh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TJ_Phazerhacki (520002) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:32PM (#47060547) Journal
    The point at which this guy admitted he maliciously tampered with equipment, he was screwed. He should have argued that he was incompetent...
    • Re:Duh... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:41PM (#47060609)

      The point at which this guy admitted he maliciously tampered with equipment, he was screwed. He should have argued that he was incompetent...

      I've seen more than one shop where some vital/important system required the personal intervention of one particular guy to get up and going again in the event that something needed to be reset/rebooted/repaired. I don't believe it was malice, just incompetence, overconfidence, understaffing or some combination that resulted in a plausibly deniable deadman switch.

      • Re:Duh... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rmdingler (1955220) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:02PM (#47060803)
        Smart people do dumb things when they're upset. According to TFA, he hacked into a protected computer to create the turmoil.

        I'll bet you a dogecoin he believed he was clever enough not to leave any traces back to himself.

        Inexperienced with law enforcement methods (or perhaps the consequences/repercussions anomaly), it probably didn't occur to him what one of the first lines of inquiry would be.

        Anyone in IT that might be disgruntled?

        • Re:Duh... (Score:5, Funny)

          by jxander (2605655) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @07:14PM (#47061567)
          And the next question is something like "Anyone got a $5 wrench?" [xkcd.com]
        • Smart people do dumb things when they're upset.

          I'm pretty sure that all people are capable of doing dumb things when we are upset. It's just that smart people can conjure up ways to cause more damage.

          I am always disgusted when I see IT "professionals" who leave a trail of destruction in their wakes when they leave. It's completely immature, and perhaps if they had applied all of that effort toward adding value instead of destroying it, they wouldn't have been sacked in the first place.

      • Re:Duh... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:48AM (#47063349) Journal

        In the last shop I worked with, on April Fool's day, when a new guy asked for a database command he was told "DROP DATABASE *;" thinking no one could be that stupid.

        Except he was. Fortunately April Fool's day that year was a friday and IT had the weekend to fix the mess

    • Re:Duh... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TWX (665546) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:42PM (#47060621)
      He never should have mounted an argument in the first place. He never should have spoken with authorities without his own representation, and probably not even with his own representation.

      Ignoring for a moment that his choice to act maliciously was what truly screwed him, law enforcement authorities are quite practiced at getting people to admit fault or to use language that allows the authorities to claim an admission. The only winning move is to not participate.
      • Re:Duh... (Score:5, Informative)

        by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:56PM (#47060753)
        Here's the only video you need to see about this (Yes it's long but it's interesting) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It's the famous Dont Talk to Police video by James Duane and that other guy.
          It's an interesting video, but would it have hurt to say which video it was? I suspect most people here have already seen it.

      • by zildgulf (1116981)
        Lessons Learned:

        1. Never actively sabotage your employer's equipment in the event that you are let go.
        2. Never talk to the police or court without a lawyer. Even an incompetent lawyer is better than representing solely yourself.
        • by nospam007 (722110) *

          "Never talk to the police or court without a lawyer."

          Never talk to the police, ever! Lawyer or no lawyer.

          It can only hurt you.
          In court you'll have ample time to talk, but chances are that you never get there if you shut your mouth with the police.

          • Re:Duh... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Jhon (241832) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @10:30PM (#47062655) Homepage Journal

            "Never talk to the police, ever! Lawyer or no lawyer."

            I hear this often and take issue with it. Last year, my daughter was kidnapped from our home in the middle of the night. My wife, son and I talked to high-heaven answering every question, letting them look at every thing they wanted. FBI, too.

            My goal was to let them rule us out as fast as humanly possible (which they did).

            I understand your sentiment, but those words "never" and "ever" that makes it just wrong.

            (Daughter was recovered. Monster is about to go on trial)

            • by bane2571 (1024309)
              Perhaps the better phrasing is don't talk to police if they come to you first.

              Fear of police when they can legitimately help you is foolish, fear of police when you have done something wrong/they think you've done something wrong is reasonable.
              • Perhaps the better phrasing is don't talk to police if they come to you first.

                Do not answer guilt-seeking questions. If you ask the police for help, give them information. If they turn around and act like you are guilty, be silent and talk only to your lawyer. Regardless, be VERY careful when talking to law enforcement. Give very specific, fact-based answers. Do not say "this happened" say "this is what I saw/heard." The difference may not seem like much when you are distraught and providing a police report

      • by mi (197448)

        The only winning move is to not participate.

        Indeed. "Neither a fortress nor a maid will hold out long after they begin to parley."

        Back to TFA, why is it even a story here? Would we have had an article about an upset driver pouring sugar in his employer's gas-tank?

  • Ashamed! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sentiblue (3535839) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:33PM (#47060549)
    He ruins our IT/Ops names...

    He doesn't deserve the term "Pro"
    • Re:Ashamed! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mlts (1038732) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:48PM (#47060681)

      Four years for causing a million dollars worth of damage isn't that harsh a sentence. What would the verdict be if someone came into a facility with a cutting torch and did the same amount of physical damage? It likely would result in an arrest for some terrorism-related charge. Blanking out servers may not be as obvious as driving a semi into some core machinery, but it does the same exact thing, especially if there are no backups. The machinery may be intact, but if there is some manufacturing process that took years to develop and fine-tune, that knowledge can be lost forever.

      This guy got off lightly, and the lesson that EnerVest has learned is that they are probably going to get their next admin or admins from Tata or Infosys, and it won't be surprising to see more companies doing the same thing.

      A friend of mine had to clean up a mess (logic bombs left behind that would corrupt arrays and reset LTO tape passwords) that was similar, due to a disgruntled admin. After he cleaned up the mess and tested that backups were working on separate hardware, he was shown the door, and an offshore company hired for all IT work. The reason: "H-1Bs do not commit sabotage."

      • Re:Ashamed! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:56PM (#47060749)

        Four years for causing a million dollars worth of damage isn't that harsh a sentence.

        I might agree with you if Wall Street scammers didn't get less for causing HUNDREDS of millions in losses to their customers. And not from a one-time "flip out", but years of knowingly and systematically screwing over everyone who trusted them...

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by aardvarkjoe (156801)

          Just because one set of criminals gets off easier than they should, it does not follow that all other criminals should be treated leniently.

          • Re:Ashamed! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by taustin (171655) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:12PM (#47060941) Homepage Journal

            Actually, between the equal protection clause of the 4th amendment and the cruel and unusual clause of the 8th, it isn't difficult to argue that it does, in fact, mean just that.

            • by kwbauer (1677400)

              No, it simply means that the error may have been made at the too lenient side.

            • Re:Ashamed! (Score:4, Informative)

              by careysub (976506) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @07:13PM (#47061557)

              Actually, between the equal protection clause of the 4th amendment and the cruel and unusual clause of the 8th, it isn't difficult to argue that it does, in fact, mean just that.

              Amen to that. If you have two sets of crimes ones committed by the fabulously wealthy (Wall Streeters, bankers - non one else is in the position to carry out such fraud) which do vast damage, and ones that are committed by ordinary citizens that do comparatively trivial amounts of damage, and that latter set are prosecuted far more vigorously, with much harsher punishments than the former, then we do not truly have a system of laws any longer, we have a system of (very rich) men.

              One is reminded of this: "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." - Anatole France

              • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Do you even have to look as far as wall streeters to find inequal punishment in the US?

                I turn on the TV every other week to see some US celebrity or another has gotten high on crack or heroin and smashed their luxury sports car through the front of somebodies house or something and gotten community service or 30 days.

                Had it been some urban black kid it would have been 5 years hard time.

                What is it about being a celebrity in the US that entitles you to break the law with reckless abandon?

                • by jklovanc (1603149)

                  Do you actually have an example of a black kid smashing their vehicle through someone's house and getting 5 years hard time? Otherwise your post is pure fiction.

                  • by taustin (171655)

                    The differences between sentencing for crack users (who are predominantly black) and regular cocaine users (who are predominantly white) is well documented, and enshrined in law.

            • by rahvin112 (446269)

              That's silly, it's different crimes. Different crimes have different prison sentences. 4oz of crack will get you a nearly life sentence where the same amount of cocaine will get you a month or two. Is the baking soda and cooking process that important that it'll net you a sentence 10 times worse?

          • by jopsen (885607)

            Just because one set of criminals gets off easier than they should, it does not follow that all other criminals should be treated leniently.

            What good does it do?
            How come Americans can only want harsher punishment?

            Sure, what he did was bad... But one year in prison is enough. He will have learned the lesson.
            Giving him 4 years, isn't going to make a difference. Except, it'll cost money to lock him up, and he will have a harder time getting a new job when he gets out, there by costing society even more money.
            Oh, and he won't pay taxes for 4 years.


            It's not like people do this stuff after having consider the consequences.

      • Re:Ashamed! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:02PM (#47060817)

        "H-1Bs do not commit sabotage."

        Absolutely, allowing foreign nationals access to your systems is COMPLETELY safe. Moreover, they don't get angry when you take away their livelihood.

      • Your friend was a fool. He should have followed the example of Dennis Nedry and made himself indispensable.

      • and they you get offshore people who don't know what they are doing / don't care

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by epyT-R (613989)

        Usually the damage estimates are way overstated, so I don't buy it on that assumption, and usually people don't engage in that behavior unless they were treated reprehensibly by their employer beforehand. Perhaps the real solution here is for management to act like human beings instead of jackals.

        If they do outsource, they'll just learn their lesson the hard way. Tata employees don't give a shit about you or your goals, and their code is buggy and broken, requiring a local side programmer to clean up their

        • by Corbets (169101)

          Usually the damage estimates are way overstated, so I don't buy it on that assumption,

          Often (I hesitate to say "usually"), helpdesk monkeys don't understand value calculations and the impact an action can have across the value chain.

          and usually people don't engage in that behavior unless they were treated reprehensibly by their employer beforehand. Perhaps the real solution here is for management to act like human beings instead of jackals.

          If they do outsource, they'll just learn their lesson the hard way.

          So group B only acts reprehensibly if group A does so first? What, then, motivates group A to act reprehensibly? Whether management or line worker, people can all be assholes. It's just as probable that this sysadmin was the kind of guy that blows things way out of proportion and took an imagined slight as reason to wreak havoc.

          Tata employees don't give a shit about you or your goals, and their code is buggy and broken, requiring a local side programmer to clean up their mess anyway.

          H-1Bs are often treated as slave labor by aforementioned jackal management. I can guarantee they will throw their sabo into the works at some point the moment they have any power, which will happen when there are no more localside programmers left thanks to attitudes like yours.

          Potentially true. I've not had pos

      • by nbauman (624611)

        Four years for causing a million dollars worth of damage isn't that harsh a sentence.

        Not by the standards of our over-inflated prison sentences in the U.S.

        But rationally it does seem like more than necessary.

        If the purpose of a prison sentence is to deter somebody, then I think 1 year, or even 6 months, would deter others just as much.

        People do these things because they don't think they'll get caught. I don't think anybody says, "Well, I'll do it if I have to serve 1 year in jail, but I won't do it if I have to serve 4 years in jail."

        If the purpose of a prison sentence is revenge -- well, d

      • Four years for causing a million dollars worth of damage isn't that harsh a sentence

        yes it is.

        why do I say that?

        because the banksters (...) have done FAR more damage to our whole society and yet not a single wall street fuckwad did any prison time. damage to our econ was in the billions, not millions and no one did time.

        this was stupid. its all about 'making an example' but its toward a class that has basically no power and The Man wants to keep it that way; keep us all in fear.

        the guy did behave badly, b

      • Four years for causing a million dollars worth of damage isn't that harsh a sentence. What would the verdict be if someone came into a facility with a cutting torch and did the same amount of physical damage?

        Not a fair comparison. One is a white collar crime, the other a blue collar crime. The legal system treats those two types of crimes differently.

    • Re:Ashamed! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:50PM (#47060699) Homepage Journal

      He ruins our IT/Ops names...

      He doesn't deserve the term "Pro"

      Right. "Pros" don't get caught!

  • He's lucky (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:35PM (#47060559) Homepage

    If he had hacked in from outside the company and done that much damage, he probably would have gotten more than 4 years.

    • Re:He's lucky (Score:4, Informative)

      by Wintermute__ (22920) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:40PM (#47061291)

      He did. He "hacked in to a protected computer". Also:

      "Mitchell is no stranger to computer-related controversy. In high school, he was accused of planting more than 100 viruses on the school's systems, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette newspaper."

      Great choice, let's hire him!

      • Re:He's lucky (Score:4, Insightful)

        by pkinetics (549289) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @07:10PM (#47061543)

        Accused is not the same as convicted.

        However in his case, he admitted to do it, but wormed his way into being allowed to finish out school. First failure of due process.

        The second failure was the court deciding to drop the matter because he had already graduated, so nothing they could do about it.

      • The article is useless. Previously they say he "tapped" into a computer, which makes no sense.

        He somehow found out that he was going to be fired. He hadn't been fired yet. It's possible that all of his accounts were still fully functional and he didn't have to circumvent any security measures- which is the trigger for those charges.

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:36PM (#47060571)
    And likely life termination as well. What a complete and utter moron.
    • Re:Ethics (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DocSavage64109 (799754) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:45PM (#47060655)
      I was talking to an employee who was fired, but still around for a couple of days to clean up her stuff. She asked if I had backups, because she wanted to delete all of the projects she was working on. I told her that she was paid to do that work and I doubt if other people will go through her work that much anyway. Why go the unethical route when it just makes you look bad?

      I bet this guy could have just left, and assuming he was useful, the company would soon be feeling the pain anyway.
      • Re:Ethics (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ultranova (717540) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:00PM (#47060787)

        Why go the unethical route when it just makes you look bad?

        Because humans are herd animals, and corporate politics purposefully try to reinforce this - it's what "team building" and "commitment to job" is ultimately all about. This means that getting fired tends to register at the emotional level: you are being banished from your tribe. Add any actual or perceived injustice, and revenge becomes a factor.

        Modern economic system is pretty perverse, as far as human needs are concerned, so people caught in it tend to act irrationally.

        • Re:Ethics (Score:5, Insightful)

          by rmdingler (1955220) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:25PM (#47061127)
          Well put.

          And not for nothing, as the grandparent's viewpoint is a sound one... Why be unethical even if you believe you've been done dirty? Hold your head high on the way out the door saying, "I was looking for a job when I found this one." Even if you don't feel it right then, you will be right proud of yourself later on.

          + to you both.

        • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

          by TapeCutter (624760)

          Because humans are herd animals,

          Nope, humans are pack animals, you more or less said so yourself by mentioning tribes, teams, etc.

          • by ultranova (717540)

            Nope, humans are pack animals, you more or less said so yourself by mentioning tribes, teams, etc.

            Please explain the difference between "herd" and "pack" and why it is relevant for this discussion?

            • Please explain the difference between "herd" and "pack"

              In my mind I equate "herd" with sheep or cattle, as opposed to a "pack" of wolves.

            • by ptudor (22537)
              "Herd" animals have eyes on the side of their heads, because they're prey. "Pack" animals have eyes facing forward, because they're predators.
      • I was talking to an employee who was fired, but still around for a couple of days to clean up her stuff. She asked if I had backups, because she wanted to delete all of the projects she was working on. I told her that she was paid to do that work and I doubt if other people will go through her work that much anyway. Why go the unethical route when it just makes you look bad?

        I bet this guy could have just left, and assuming he was useful, the company would soon be feeling the pain anyway.

        The sad thing is that the people who think like this don't seem to be aware that this flaw in their character is probably why they got fired in the first place.

    • the jail / prison has healthcare + room and board

  • by mpicpp (3454017) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:38PM (#47060583)
    I've cleaned up messes and had to do data recovery after people deleted their work, reformatted machines, etc. and then quit. I have no sympathy at all for people that do this type of stuff...
  • Crappy headline (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NotSanguine (1917456) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:52PM (#47060719) Journal

    This guy is no professional. A professional does his job. That's what he/she is paid to do. Since this person was getting fired, I'm guessing he wasn't meeting expectations. Even if it was a broader layoff, there's no reason to act so unprofessionally.

    Not sure if he deserves jail time, but there is no reason to break stuff on your way out the door. I'm glad I know this guy's name. I will certainly never hire him.

    • I'm guessing he wasn't meeting expectations

      You're never seen a person be fired because the ranks of management are equally vile?

      Have you never seen a manager go to jail because he deliberately fired or drove away the company's most competent employee on fabricated allegations in order to exact revenge for a perceived slight, prior to his own dismissal or resignation?

      No, I didn't think so. The master retributivist of eternal liberty sabotages human systems instead.

      • I'm guessing he wasn't meeting expectations

        You're never seen a person be fired because the ranks of management are equally vile?

        Have you never seen a manager go to jail because he deliberately fired or drove away the company's most competent employee on fabricated allegations in order to exact revenge for a perceived slight, prior to his own dismissal or resignation?

        No, I didn't think so. The master retributivist of eternal liberty sabotages human systems instead.

        Okay. You could be right. Perhaps I shouldn't have made that inference. Regardless, Mr. Mitchell acted irresponsibly (and in the eyes of a Federal court in the southern district of West Virginia, criminally). Whether someone else acted inappropriately is, to me at least, unknown.

        Are you suggesting that Mr. Mitchell's actions were appropriate or justified?

      • ...The master retributivist of eternal liberty sabotages human systems instead.

        That's some sentence you have there. Have you considered entering this [bulwer-lytton.com] contest?

  • That sort of thing tends to happen when you intentionally and maliciously fuck up someone else's shit.

    The real question is, and I know I bitch about other people asking this myself, but why is this on Slashdot? He's not some IT rock star like Sergey or John, EnerVest isn't some major player in the IT world like Google or Apple, and the punishment meted out seems fairly appropriate.

    Maybe the constant, mindless drone of 24-7 American media news cycles is finally starting to get to me, but this doesn't seem se

    • You're overthinking it, attempting to classify it as Famous IT person jammed up! or as Company you've ever heard of Rogue Employee Story.

      This is a Classic Slashdottian morality play involving an otherwise intelligent IT worker who bewilderingly talks to the police and hands himself over to them.

      • Handing yourself into the cops after deliberately breaking the law is commonly called "having a conscience", it's not bewildering at all to someone who has one.That he thought industrial sabotage was justifiable in the first place is what I find bewildering. Thinking he would get away with it implies a lack of intelligence. Still, it happens everyday in every industry, not really newsworthy, more of a "human interest" story. The "interest" part is thatt we have all thought about doing something like this bu
    • by jxander (2605655)

      The story, imo, is simply "Computer based crime committed, appropriate punishment served."

      That there wasn't some major freakout is newsworthy in an of itself. An "IT Pro" was tried, convicted and sentenced without (to the best of my knowledge) over bearing law enforcement trampling all over his rights or leaning on him so hard that he follows Aaron Schwartz is somewhat remarkable.

      It shouldn't be, but it is.

  • Criminal damage (Score:4, Insightful)

    by benjfowler (239527) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:40PM (#47061287)

    Open-and-shut case of criminal damage.

    What's amazing, is that there are still neckbeards out where who think that just because they're techies, that norms of proper human behaviour don't belong to them.

    • by causality (777677)

      Open-and-shut case of criminal damage.

      What's amazing, is that there are still neckbeards out where who think that just because they're techies, that norms of proper human behaviour don't belong to them.

      When you hear about a street mugging, do you also say "What's amazing, is that there are still thugs out there who think that just because they're on the street, that norms of proper human behavior don't belong to them" too?

      If not, what's special about "... with a computer!"

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        This troll just wants to rag on whatever group he wants to dump on. Logic and rationality really have nothing to do with it.

    • He didn't have a beard.

      True neckbeards are professionals and don't get fired because the dismissal letter gets rerouted to their boss somehow. j/k. Sort of.
  • Seriously, read the article (and then I remembered where I was) he deserved to be banged up, changing jobs voluntary or not is a nasty fact of life in this economy. If you sabotage your ex employers systems then you should expect they will hire someone who isn't so stupid and is able to detect it. Business has money, what it doesn't have is patience. During a major problem they will simply hire temporary talent that will be smarter than you because they haven't spent the last few years doing a job with no d
  • Why is this news? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lionchild (581331)

    I'm not exactly sure why this is really a news thing. It took up two lines of text, and was about a guy who did something malicious, on purpose, was caught and pleaded guilty. Let's replace IT Pro with some other profession...with say a teacher. They know they're being let go, so they dip all the keys and answer sheets in ink, rendering them useless and remove covers from textbooks. They get caught / found out, admit they did it, they go to jail.

    I just don't get why this is really news-worthy.

  • He went in and did as much damage as he could, in a sort of drive your semi through the front door kind of way, failed to cover his tracks, got caught, confessed, and is doing 4 years hard time. Better that he walked away with his head held high and never looked back.

    He should have followed best practices:

    1. Be patient. Wait. Wait at least a year. In that time they will have let any number of people go, and you won't be the go-to suspect.

    2. Plan ahead. Make sure there are a few well concealed back doors
  • Don't take it personally. Most employees can do a lot of damage, and IT is essentially the records and archival department for companies. You have to REALLY trust someone to let them go on their own recognizance.

    However, most people *DO* take it personally when they're escorted out, and it's emotional, but a lot of people don't let logic rule. A business must protect itself, and there is a lot of history behind it. For management not to do this and immediately take away system privileges, is negligent at be

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @11:10PM (#47062815)
    What about when businesses do things like wreck people's lives through baseless lawsuits, blacklist people, baseless DMCA takedowns, etc? I don't see any 4 year sentences for those actions.

    This seems to be another example of where some individual does wrong and the system comes down on him. But when corporate/government types do wrong the system comes to their defence.

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