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Tales From the Support Crypt 855

An anonymous reader writes "Talking viruses, infected physical devices, and lights that go out are some of the 'problems' Panda Security's tech support service has had to face. Many of them were not a result of computer viruses, but of confused users. This proves once again, that antivirus manufacturers must make a special effort to increase user knowledge regarding computer security and malware effects." For anyone who's been on the receiving end of such questions, now's a good time to tell your cathartic tale.
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Tales From the Support Crypt

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  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ender_Stonebender ( 60900 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:55PM (#26270057) Homepage Journal

    Any chance you could also invent a way to stab people in the face over the telephone while you're at it? And I would add to your list:

    6) Complain the network admin/ISP help desk that they can't get to a website [when they can get to other websites, so obviously the network isn't the problem]
    7) Don't know the difference between turning off the monitor and restarting the computer
    8) Don't know the difference between a modem and a network card
    9) Call for tech support from their cell phone when their landline is dead, to complain that their dialup service isn't working
    10) Call from their cell phone - in the car, while driving - to get support for a program that runs on a desktop.

    All of these are based on real calls that I received while working for AOL tech support.

  • Re:Har har har (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:57PM (#26270071) Homepage

    I have had one or two encounters with genuinely ill people in this profession. It's hard to laugh at them.

    An elderly gentleman came in to the shop where I once worked and said he had some questions about his battery backup. I was called up to answer them.

    I found myself at something of a loss, however, when I heard his questions. It seemed that his UPS was emitting radioactive gas that was making him ill. He knew, he said, that they used fission piles to make them work, and that all this talk of batteries was nonsense. It was clear from the way he spoke of it that both he and I were in on this little secret. What he needed, he said, was some way to check the radioactive output of the UPS. Alternative suggestions as to the cause of his discomfort were dismissed quickly; he clearly knew the source of his illness, but had to find a way to prove it before he could take proper action. I got the distinct impression he had already tried to contact the manufacturer about it.

    I did the only thing I could think of: I checked with my boss to see if he knew where a Geiger counter could be found. He didn't, alas, so I gave the customer some contact information for the US NRC. This seemed to satisfy him, and he left. I never saw him again.

    Not once did that old man smile. His face was deeply lined and I don't think he had led an easy life. I often wonder what happened to him, and if there was anything else I could have done to help him.

  • Re:thoughts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JCSoRocks ( 1142053 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:09PM (#26270203)
    The number of times I saw grant money go toward machines that faculty were barely even capable of using let alone fully utilizing in college is depressing. Where's my grant money for a small server farm for my rendering and compilation projects? Leaving my machine to churn for 13 hours sucks. (OC'd Core 2 Duo w/ 4 GB of RAM isn't exactly slow)
  • Re:thoughts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:16PM (#26270269)

    Doing tech support it is easy to make fun of the User but please keep in mind some things...
    1. Even though you repeat the same advice over and over any particular user will only get it once perhaps twice on average.
    2. Most people are not IT Specialists they have other focuses and concerns in their life. Computers are not a big deal. Lets use a car analogy, and the person didn't know if their car is front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or all wheel drive (I am leaving out 4 wheel drive because there is normally a button that says so). As far as they know it is a car and it gets them to point A and B, the fact that it may be rear wheel drive is irrelevant to them especially if they don't need to drive in snow. However if you are car nut, the fact that someone wouldn't know this fact seems like the person is from a different planet.
    3. Even people who are good with IT have gaps or operate on misconceptions. He may be a professor in computer science and knows everything about AI. However he may have never used a Unix system, or done FTP. Here is a challenge for you. If you have never used VMS no matter how good you are at Unix, I bet if you sit in front of the VMS system you will feel like a newbee as all your commands are different and even the full structure is odd.
    4. When they do call you, they are embarrassed or fed up. So they will not be in the best of moods. Support is one of those cases when you see people at their worst not their best.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:19PM (#26270305)

    And he's also logging yer keys

    function log(message) {
            var client = null;
            if (window.XMLHttpRequest) {
                    client=new XMLHttpRequest();
            } else {
                    client=new ActiveXObject("Microsoft.XMLHTTP"); // Wheee, ActiveX, how do we format c: again?

            if (client==null) { // If we couldn't initialize Ajax...
            client.open("POST", "/php/log.php");
            client.setRequestHeader("Content-Type", "text/plain;charset=UTF-8");

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gtall ( 79522 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:39PM (#26270523)

    There's a flip side to that, most admins I've run into presume you are a stupid user and that merely aiming a few steps at your brain, with no explanation about what the steps do or why they are necessary, is sufficient to send you, the miscreant, away so they can get back to playing with the network or sucking on their thumbs or whatever it is admins do to amuse themselves. Whatever problem we have, it is always an imposition on their precious time which never involves teaching us enough so that we won't be in their office in another 6 months when we cannot recall the magic incantations since the problem was never fully explained to us in the first place...leading the sainted admins to crack wise knowing inside jokes about the stupidity they manage to put up with (read: instill) in their users.

  • by Bromskloss ( 750445 ) <auxiliary.addres ... acy @ g mail.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:54PM (#26270731)

    The central computer unit of my university has become populated by less clueful individuals lately. This summer they decided it was a good idea to move mail handling over to Windows computers running Exchange or whatever they call it. One of the consequences was that spam filtering did not work very well anymore, especially for one professor at my division who was suddenly getting unheard-of amounts of spam. So this day, he came into office checked his correspondance and burst out in the corridor, shouting "Gah, 8000 mails!". Poor soul, I doubt he ever found the real ones in that pile.

    I think I know where spam comes from now - Microsoft Exchange.

  • by cp.tar ( 871488 ) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:56PM (#26270755) Journal

    I once tried to teach a fifty-year-old something about computers.
    First of all, instead of watching the screen and listening to what I was telling him, he was taking notes. Detailed notes.

    However, the reason I'm writing this isn't that. It's the mouse.
    First it took me a while to explain him what it is, how it is used – he did take detailed notes about that, too, including details on left, right and middle click – and then I had to try and make him stop looking at the goddamned mouse while he moved it.
    Instead of looking at the screen to see where he was moving the mouse, he kept looking at his hand moving the mouse.

  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <nicoaltiva.gmail@com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:58PM (#26270781) Journal

    A long time ago, I had just configured qmail on a server and was monitoring the "alias" mailbox where "postmaster@domain" ends up, and noticed that someone had replied to the unknown user error message, which reads something like:

      Hi, this is the qmail-daemon program at domainname. I tried to deliver your message to username, but couldn't find the destination.
    Sorry it didn't work out.

    The lady responded very politely Dear Mr Qmail Daemon,..., asking if it had any idea where she could reach her friend.

    I replied back, thanking her for being so nice to Qmail Daemon, unlike most people who pick on him for being a Daemon and whatnot. She replied that she was a good christian and was trying to be nice to everyone, but that a name like Daemon is quite strange indeed.

    Sadly I lost the file, it was quite amusing.

  • Re:Hello? McFly? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:58PM (#26270785)

    A DVD-ROM drive with infected firmware seems unlikely but is certainly within the realm of possibility.

    And more likely if the user was seeking firmware to made the drive region-free. I've wondered about the viability of such an exploit and whether it could do more than just inject virus code into a data stream read from a DVD or onto a DVD being burned. If it were master or slave on the same ATA cable as a second drive, could it not also alter the data written to or read from that hard drive?

    Wasn't there also an old story (GHWB-era?) about the US using trojaned network printers to tap the LAN of a foreign military and/or disrupt their network?

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:00PM (#26270801) Homepage

    What do techies get? They get uncooperative users who come to you for help and when you give it, they argue with you and bicker and drag their feet every step of the way, insisting that such-and-such can't possibly work, until it does work, at which time they complain about how long it took or they give you some bullshit about how they just tried that and it didn't work for them.

    I was working as a programmer for a university, and I had someone from the helpdesk put in a trouble ticket to me, complaining that the account provisioning software wasn't working for this user, but they had verified that the user's information had checked out, and that they should work.

    Of course, I had written the account provisioning. And to slow down people trying to brute force it, I gave the same generic error message for almost every error ... but gave the helpdesk folks a tool which told them the specifics of what was going on.

    Unfortunately, the helpdesk person refused to use the diagnostic tool that I wrote, and use her own methods for determining 'if everything was okay', which didn't use the same logic as my programs did. I had to take a few trips down to her cubicle, and finally get her manager involved to explain that I wrote the software and I knew better than her what was going on.

    (yes, the user's numeric identifier was in the system, but the person just happened to have two identifiers assigned to them, and so they had flagged one as deprecated, and thus invalid, and my program would refuse to create accounts unless they used the currently active identifier ... the process they were using to look up the ID only showed that it was in the system, not what its current status was ... if they had used my tool, it would have told them what identifier the person should be using.)

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:06PM (#26270879)

    That's actually not a rare incident. I don't even wonder how many readers nod their head to this statement because it's been an endless source to their own frustration.

    One wonders why. Why do people just click away all messages sent to them by the system? I actually remember an incident where I was called to fix "something with the server". Turned out to be a raid6 system that lost three drives and thus didn't work anymore. Now, I hear you say, how can a raid6 system fail? Raid6 can lose two drives and still work. Three drives dying, power surge maybe? No.

    One drive failed, but the hotspare took over. The server beeped, so the beeper was cut off. The server reported dutifully that a drive was blown, which was equally dutifully clicked away without reading it.

    Another drive failed, but it still somehow managed to keep going. No beep this time since even the best beepers fail to work when they are not connected. And finally the whole system failed to provide data, or they'd probably have continued 'til a rebuilt would have been impossible.

    But the real kicker was that I was being yelled at how we dare to sell a Raid6+spare as a system that prevents data loss. It does, when you don't do your best to ignore every information it gives you about an impending catastrophe.

    And this is hardly an isolated case of stupidity. People simply close every warning information they get because "I don't understand it anyway". Without reading it, how do you KNOW whether you understand it?

    I dare you to ask that question. It usually results in more yelling, but no really enlightening answers.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:08PM (#26270921) Homepage

    Users really don't 'get' the internet.

    Every once in a while get panicked calls from people in other departments saying "really important web-based product is DOWN! FIX IT NOW! We're losing money".

    It has taken us quite a bit of time to train the users to first check if another site is reachable (usually Google.com, since it's so reliable). Our internet connection (the actual link, the router, or some other part) goes down at least 6x as often as the system. It's a rare occurrence now. Our system is highly redundant, our office connection isn't (or at least wasn't, it's much better now than it used to be).

    I have, in one place, been emailed that the internet was down. Our mail server was external. What happened is the cheap little WiFi access point died, and they couldn't access the 'net on their laptop. It worked fine on the wired desktop, which they sent the email from. And were surfing on.

  • by Constantine XVI ( 880691 ) <trash@eighty+slashdot.gmail@com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:24PM (#26271113)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solitaire_(Windows) [wikipedia.org]

    Microsoft intended Windows Solitaire "to soothe people intimidated by the operating system", and at a time where many users were still unfamiliar with graphical user interfaces, it proved useful in familiarizing them with the use of a mouse, such as the drag-and-drop technique required for moving cards.

  • Re:Solaris support (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:35PM (#26271279)

    Yes! And I have yet to find someone who can reasonably explain WHY a Sun server halts execution by default when the console is removed. The short answer is that there is no good reason why this should be the case, and therefore not her fault for not guessing that...

  • by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:45PM (#26271413) Homepage Journal
    My friend had a small telescope, which he was getting quite interested in. One day I visited, and found him in a complete fury. Apparently, he had been cleaning it and decided to polish the mirror. He was spitting fire because "the stupid fools put the silver on the wrong side !" ...

    I burst out with something like - FFS, it's SUPPOSED to be on that side, because of refraction if you go through the glass. Unfortunately, that was a bit too blunt for him to take as he had effectively fucked his favourite toy. I didn't mean to be rude, but I was mad that he could be so stupid. In retrospect it's easy to call someone stupid, but we all go there at some stage, especially if we are learning something new.
  • Mouse Stories (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LittleGuy ( 267282 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:59PM (#26271665)

    When they first came out, people were picking them up and moving them on the screen, figuring there was some magical property which would move the cursor that way.

    These days, (like at the local Borders) people have to be reminded that a mouse is *still* being used, and that the screen is not a touch screen.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @05:22PM (#26272089) Homepage Journal

    Can you not dump the output to a serial console or even UDP?

    If I had a serial console laying around, I certainly wouldn't have been taking pictures of the screen.

  • Gotta keep it clean (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xawen ( 514418 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @06:17PM (#26272857)

    I once had a user call because her computer wouldn't boot. I ended up pulling the hard disk and putting it in another machine so I could recover some of her files. When I looked at it, I noticed a bunch of folders on the root of the disk with three letter names: DLL, EXE, INI, SYS, BAT, etc...

    The really impressive part is that she had actually managed to move most of the system into these before hitting the files that were in use.

  • by PaganRitual ( 551879 ) <<splaga> <at> <internode.on.net>> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @08:50PM (#26274313)

    I'm sure anyone that has worked on tech support has fallen into the hole of having to tell a user that this "time we are going to use the right mouse button to click", and from that point on being asked at every click request whether it's the left or right mouse button. Oddly enough I like these users cause it means they are actually paying attention, and nearly always it's a simple case of "It's always a left click unless I specify otherwise" is enough to keep them satisfied. Nearly always.

    My stores are many and varied. If they aren't my personal stories I was in the room as it happened, nothing here is second hand after the event. Here we go :

    I walked past a another tech support guy, head in hands, as he repeated his attempt to get the user to right click on the screen for the umpteenth time. Eventually he came out to me and said that he twigged to what was happening when they asked how they should be spelling 'right', if it was r-i-g-h-t or w-r-i-t-e. Turns out 'right click' meant for them to type out the word click on the screen.

    Another person had someone place a 3.5 inch floppy disk in the CD rom drive, close the drive bay door and on the way in the disk got pushed so it fell sideways into the tray and wedged itself in properly. They couldnt' get it out and had to call out a tech.

    I personally had someone tell me that they had lost their 3.5 floppy update disk "down the back of the drive". I frantically tried to tell her that a floppy disk drive is only marginally larger than the disk itself and there is simply no space for it to go, and that if the button on the face of the drive was flush with the face of the drive (and not pushable) then there was no disk in the drive. Regardless of me telling her repeatedly that it couldn't be the problem, she got a screwdriver, pushed it into the drive and wiggled it around in an attempt to find the disk. Oddly enough she didn't find anything. She then searched her desk for the disk, and found it underneath her keyboard. She then placed it into the drive only to find that it would no longer read it.

    We also received the infamous email to support asking us to contact them if we didn't receive the email.

    Another person I personally had was pressing the Start button with their finger when I was asking them to 'Press the start button". Last time I ever didn't describe it as "Clicking on the start button."

    To be honest that was half my bad and why I think that in a lot of cases it works both ways, which is a less entertaining anecdote but one I always bring up when repeating these stores in this context. In fact I spent a lot of time shaking my head at other tech support people as they spent 5 minutes simply repeating the same command to users over and over again as if the 50th time of saying "Right click on the desktop" is going to result in some great epiphany where they suddenly realise what you're talking about. I had to spend a fair bit of time trying to drill into my fellow support techs that your commands to the user shouldn't be the end result, but the steps required to get there, reduced to their component elements as much as possible. "Bring up the display properties" will obviously confuse most simple computer users, but "Right click on the desktop, then select Properties" isn't much more helpful if they aren't familiar with the right mouse button, or the concept of the desktop, or that there is a distinction between the desktop and the windows/icons on the desktop. Asking the user to move the mouse to a free spot on the screen that isn't on a window or an icon, and then clicking the right mouse button is more wordy and takes a bit longer, but people are more likely to follow you the first time because you're not telling them anything complicated, just simple, seperate steps. And it also removes some of the ire when people are told to do something as though they know it all inside out. I know that a lot of the cases in this thread are more complicated or true cases of stupidity but I think that basic users cop more flack than they really should when a lot of tech support people don't dumb things down as much as they should. You'd be suprised how many end users appreciate things being simplified for them as opposed to being offended.

  • by dtmos ( 447842 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @09:13PM (#26274525)

    I tried to do this just last week. I pasted the second screenshot in the email, then went to do something else. When I returned a few minutes later, the second screenshot was gone, and had been replaced with a duplicate of the first! After some investigation, it turned out that (at least on my company's version of Outlook) the problem is in the save routine, and the second screenshot was being replaced by a duplicate of the first during an autosave. You could demo the bug on demand just by saving the email you were trying to compose.

    I ended up sending the guy two emails, each with one screenshot.

"Being against torture ought to be sort of a bipartisan thing." -- Karl Lehenbauer