“Hey, you’re in IT, right,” a frantic fellow in a maintenance jumpsuit asked, barging right into G.R.G.’s cramped little office. G.R.G. shifted his eyes away from the project he was working on – some database for physics students and professors – and began to formulate an affirmative answer. Before he could even complete the word “yes,” the Maintenance Guy jumped in, “’cause, we have a serious problem.”

The Maintenance Guy went on to explain that he was receiving increasingly severe temperature alarms from the Server Room. First 86°F, then 93°F, then 97°F, and – just then – 103°F. He figured that the dedicated air conditioning unit had died. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but he had no way to get in to fix it. The Server Room – which housed all of the university’s critical research, financial, and operational servers – was locked.

This wasn’t the first time that someone had come to G.R.G. asking to get in the Server Room. While the maintenance folks have access to a Master Key that can unlock any door in the building, the Server Room is the only door that does not have a keyhole. You see, years ago the IT Headmaster decided that it was far too insecure to protect their Server Room with a simple key. After all, keys could be duplicated and locks could be picked, and their Server Room had to remain completely secure. A locksmith was brought in to install one of those “push four button” locks on the door, and the code would be a well-kept secret. In fact, only the IT Headmaster and his two most trusted minions knew the code, and since G.R.G. had only been an employee for four years, he was not a member of that small circle.

There was little G.R.G. could do to help the poor Maintenance Guy, let alone the rapidly overheating servers. He called up the IT Headmaster. No answer. He called up Minion #1. No answer, either. He called up Minion #2. Still, no answer. And all the while, the temperature climbed to 118°F and one of the key research servers went down. It wasn’t looking good.

G.R.G. knew that had little chance of tracking down the IT Headmaster and his minions; though their office was a short, four-mile drive away, they could be in any one of the campus’s hundred or so buildings. He had to think of something else, and think of it fast. He sprung up from his chair and hurried down the hall with Maintenance Guy towards the Server Room. Perhaps they could find an alternative way in.

Going through the drop ceiling wasn’t an option; the walls went up past the ceiling tiles. Busting down the door didn’t seem too feasible; it seemed far too solid and no worth risking a dislocated shoulder or a broken foot. The old credit-card-in-the-door-jamb trick was a no-go, too; apparently, lock manufacturers had closed that loophole long ago and Hollywood just hadn’t caught up yet. Their only other option was to figure out the code by looking at the wear patterns on the different numbers. And as it turned out, that didn’t work out so well, either.

But then G.R.G. noticed something very interesting. Actually, he couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed it before. When the locksmith had installed the push-button lock, he removed the key lock by simply pulling out the replacement lock cylinder. Here was a big gaping hole on the door knob where a key would normally go.

G.R.G pulled out his trusty BIC pen, jiggled it around in the hole a bit, and – click – the lock spring opened and the door knob could be turned. He opened up the door and was greeted by a blast of hot air and a room full of beeping servers.

As the maintenance guy went in and did his thing, G.R.G. thought to himself, all the servers, all the research grants, I could take them, they’d be mine, mine, mine! Or, of course, anyone else who had walked past the server room armed with a BIC pen in the past few years.

Story continues in the sequel, Securing The Server Room, Part II.

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