Could this kitten possibly be more interesting than the job at hand? Secret outsourcer Bob seemed to think so. Photo: Getty Images
When a routine security check by a US-based company showed someone was repeatedly logging on to their computer system from China, it naturally sent alarm bells ringing. Hackers were suspected and telecoms experts were called in.
It was only after a thorough investigation that it was revealed that the culprit was not a hacker, but "Bob" (not his real name), an "inoffensive and quiet" family man and the company's top-performing programmer, who could be seen toiling at his desk day after day and staring diligently at his monitor.
The VPN logs showed him logged in from China, yet the employee is right there, sitting at his desk.Andrew Valentine, Verizon
For Bob had come up with the idea of outsourcing his own job — to China. So, while a Chinese consulting firm got on with the job he was paid to do, on less than one-fifth of his salary, he whiled away his working day surfing Reddit, eBay and Facebook.
When the company checked the web-browsing history, a typical ‘work day’ for Bob was: 9am, arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours, then watch cat videos.
The extraordinary story has been revealed by Andrew Valentine, senior investigator at US telecoms firm Verizon Business.
Verizon's risk team was called by the unnamed critical infrastructure company last year, "asking for our help in understanding some anomalous activity that they were witnessing in their VPN logs", wrote Valentine.
The company had begun to allow its software developers to occasionally work from home and so had set up "a fairly standard VPN [virtual private network] concentrator" to facilitate remote access. When its IT security department started actively monitoring logs being generated at the VPN in May 2012, "What they found startled and surprised them: an open and active VPN connection from Shenyang, China! As in, this connection was live when they discovered it," wrote Valentine.
What was more, the developer whose credentials were being used was sitting at his desk in the office.
"Plainly stated, the VPN logs showed him logged in from China, yet the employee is right there, sitting at his desk, staring into his monitor."
Verizon's investigators discovered "almost daily connections from Shenyang, and occasionally these connections spanned the entire workday".
The employee, whom Valentine calls Bob, was in his mid-40s, a "family man, inoffensive and quiet. Someone you wouldn't look twice at in an elevator."
But an examination of his workstation revealed hundreds of PDF invoices from a third party contractor/developer in Shenyang.
"As it turns out, Bob had simply outsourced his own job to a Chinese consulting firm. Bob spent less than one-fifth of his six-figure salary for a Chinese firm to do his job for him."
When the company checked his web-browsing history, a typical "work day" for Bob was:
• 9am: Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours, watch cat videos
• 11.30am: Take lunch
• 1pm: eBay
• 2pm-ish: Facebook updates, LinkedIn
• 4.40pm-end of day: Update email to management
• 5pm: Go home.
The evidence, said Valentine, even suggested he had the same scam going across multiple companies in the area.
"Quarter after quarter, his performance review noted him as the best developer in the building," wrote Valentine.
Bob no longer works for the company.
Guardian News & Media