This is why a government computer should never be left unattended.

Seriously, you must click this to embiggen. You’ve just gotta see what I did.

Okay, well this is actually even more epic than it looks.

We have a policy that keeps people from leaving their computers unlocked for various obvious reasons (and some not so obvious). Offenders can sometimes get dealt with in fun ways, usually teaching them a lesson. I’ve seen it all: Facebook posts about deep disturbing love for a random girly subject, letters to the rest of the command about the Army ‘not being fun’, everything on the desk turned upside down… But this one is visually intense, and I’m proud of it.

Here’s how I theoretically may have done it, and made it more epic than it looks. Allegedly. 🙂

First off, I created a few thousand folders and stacked groups of them on top of each other. Only spent 5 minutes, so it’s sloppy.

Next I started dumping copies of all of these folders into ‘My Documents’, the person’s IE/Firefox links, and that quick links folder at the top of a normal Windows 7 install. The effects of this alone were hilarious, but it gets much better.

After that, I took a screenshot of the desktop madness. Then I navigated to the folder where the desktop background image is located. By default, a user can’t change their background image away from the ‘UNCLASSIFIED’ screen (or whatever classification you’re working with, etc. In this case, it’s the NIPR backround.)

Using administrator rights was an option, but I didn’t use them. I saved a copy of the original image for later (when people would inevitably scream “Not cool… Holy shit!”) Then I changed the name of the screenshot to match the name of the original desktop background, and overwrote the old one with the new.

Keep in mind, they still had real copies of thousands of useless folders on their desktop. It took this person (who works in IT with me) quite a while to delete the real copies – mostly due to unfortunate choices like Auto-arrange Icons compounding his problem. I felt a little bad so I offered him the advice of “do a search for folders with the word ‘copy’ in it, arrange results by date, delete anything from today.”

It worked… for the real folders.

But the desktop image persisted. Nobody in the shop had ever really cared to attempt to change the desktop via such alternative methods, so it was not obvious. My fellow Soldier / co-worker must have thought the folders crashed his windows permanently, like they were ‘burned into his account’ through a GPU glitch. Or something. LOL I don’t know.

After a while I simply offered to change his background back to normal. He looked at me and said many NSFL (Not safe for life) things, realizing the true pain of being fooled by something so simple in hindsight.

We all laughed like a bastard later though. Good stuff. And we all learned a lesson about leaving your government computer unlocked. InfoSec – Information Security!

FYI: With escalated rights, you could theoretically do all of this remotely, while the user is still logged in and actively using their computer. Theoretically.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kate, Monster

    Ha ha haaaaaa! Good job!

  • B-Lar

    TripleXHarcoreAwesome. You sir, are a pioneer and I will scare the crap out of someone with that in the near future.

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    Yes, “theoretically” you could, but that would be evil. :0

  • Justin Griffith


    \computer namec$


    • MW

      Years ago I had a colleague who left his computer unlocked all the time and so we shared out the folder with his wallpaper image and system sound files. Then we’d change the files remotely. He couldn’t understand why his desktop kept changing even while he worked. Of course the giggling from adjacent cubicles every time he sighed gave the game away.

      We’d choose the most unappealing desktops for him – my favourite was a 1960s photo of old ladies in a hair salon. I think my friend moaned audibly when he saw that one.

      My favourite though was changing the “ding.wav” so it was a 40-second snippet of the Dr Who theme….

  • I like to take a screenshot of someone’s icons, place it as the background, then shrink the toolbar down out of sight and set the desktop to hide icons. Then watch them try to use the pictures of their icons and toolbar.

  • This is why, when I push a desktop to people, it’s on a network share instead of copied to the local computer.

    There’s a few ways to change someone’s desktop background then lock it so you can’t access the wallpaper options in various versions of Windows. They involve either local policy, the registry, or if you’re a domain admin, group policy. Any of those three are inaccessible without admin rights.

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    The unlocked computer deserved everything it got. GOOD JOB!!!!!

  • Neilp

    Best thing to do is set the background and then turn off desktop icons. That way they can see all of the icons, but non of them work. If you do this to someone who doesn’t know any better, they may never figure it out.

  • Not Daniel

    What a nerd!

  • See this is why I need admin access on my work computer. Which requires taking 5 online courses plus submitting a form explaining why I need it. And I’m not even military. Oh government, why do you difficult me so?

  • Aliasalpha

    Ooh its been years since I did this kind of thing to a chump. Flipping the desktop around 180 degrees is also fun if they don’t know the shortcut to get it back.

    Ooh thats a thought, screenshot the desktop and flip the image around 180, apply it as the wallpaper then flip the entire desktop around 180 so they have the image the right way up but the controls upside down

  • Lauren Ipsum

    I’ve done the upside-down desktop screenshot, the mirror-image desktop screenshot, and the “fill the screen with an extreme closeup photo of my cat.” All to the same coworker.

    Oddly, the cat photo was the only one which actually pissed him off. He called me and then stood outside his office, pointing, until I made the cat face go away.

  • rational jen

    I have more fun than that, because I’m IA. I get to be an asshole when it comes to the network. It’s one of the best jobs in the G6 because you don’t have to be nice to end users. People in Division like to refer to us as Network Nazis and they really hate it when we show up in their office and go “Yes, I’m from IA and I’m looking for *username* and this computer. I even went to the Chaplain’s office to menace his staff, because my ePO caught him loading unauthorized games onto his NIPR. I told his assistant that he’d better make sure that those games were deleted from the machine and whatever disk he was using to load the on was destroyed before I locked the Chaplains account, purged his machine, and then ensured that he would have to redo all required training in order to get his account back. I’m with the G6 IA, and we don’t screw around, we protect our network from all threats. But then again the present G6 is the first unit that I have ever been in that had so many Secular Humanists, Agnostics, and Atheists. It’s almost a pretty even split between those with religion and those without, and it is actually a really good mix of people, with a very good degree of tolerance for one another. I just wish the rest of the Army could take a cue from us G6 nerds.

  • Nice Ogress

    Our IT gentleman has made Mean Threats to do something along these lines to any unattended computers he finds when we’re out on lunch or whatevs, but so far has not followed through.

    But our dinky little office is not exactly a high-profile security target, so it’s not as much of a breach for us.

    S’pose I shall have to Take More Precautions, though.

    And notes. Lots of notes.

  • F

    I can’t figure out IT people who can’t figure out what is happening in such circumstances. Blows my mind.

    Maybe keep this person away from the UAVs.

  • MW

    Back on Windows 3.1, I made a bitmap of the iconized Program Manager and then set it as the tiled desktop.

  • Wow, all we would do is send a squadron wide email telling everyone they could get a drink from the snack bar. You are truly (allegedly) gifted in the prank department.

  • bobcalder

    I encourage appropriate vandalism in the lab when kids leave their accounts logged in. BUT I don’t encourage what you did. The problem being that often, they don’t or can’t understand how it happened because their knowledge of computers is faith-based, ie “they just work”.

    What happens then is that *I* have to take time to fix it. Not fun.

    Problems with it are: 1. takes too long to recover, 2. possibility of losing something important accidentally, 3. someone else does it and the wrong person gets punished. Similarly, the “copy all” doesn’t work when someone without a sense of humor gets the “Girly-man email”. People have to go to sensitivity training or worse.

    My usual suggestion to lab vandals is to use 1. Barney the Dinosaur (for general purposes) or 2. The Teletubbies (for gay bashing self-haters.)

    I am a high school teacher. I don’t have to deal with self-absorbed assholes in other branches *cough* AF *cough*.

  • blindrobin

    Ahh youth…

  • arakasi

    The best I ever did was when I ran across a unix script called “meltdown” which froze the display, then made it drip down the screen like melted candle wax. I found a friend’s display ID, called him up with some BS excuse, and ran the script on his display. I could have passed on making the phone call, because I heard his scream from about 8-10 rows away.

    I heard about a couple at school, such as remapping the keyboard, but never put them into practice. The one I had a chance to do but wasn’t mean enough was to set every display color (i.e. text, background, window, menu, et. al.) to black.

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