[Hpn] Massive Dot-Com Workforce Reductions Inspire Military-Style
Sun, 21 Jan 2001 14:10:12 -0700
Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001 22:08:05 -0000
From: "Claudia White" <Msdarkstar1@angelfire.com>
Subject: !b_a_Act: Laid Off Or Under Arrest?
--- In email@example.com, "Eric Stewart"
Laid Off Or Under Arrest?
Massive Dot-Com Workforce Reductions Inspire Military-Style Security
Annalee Newitz, Special to SF Gate
San Francisco, California, USA -- The layoff gossip had reached a
fever pitch last November at management software company Intraware's
office in Emeryville. Robin (not her real name) remembers that
although none of the executives had made an official announcement,
all the employees were "buzzing" about their dot-com's impending
doom. But nothing prepared them for what actually happened the day
that their workforce was reduced from 380 people to 200.
"It was strange," says Robin. "On the day we were laid off, these
thug-like guys suddenly showed up who looked like mafiosi. When we
asked them who they were -- they claimed to be temps. Later in the
day, our managers herded us into the lunchroom, where the so-called
temps guarded the doors. After the CEO gave his speech, two or three
of these guards followed him out, and then the rest of them did
rounds for the remainder of the day while we cleared out our stuff."
Robin pauses, then adds ironically, "We found out later that the
layoff operation actually had a code name -- Project Sunset."
Dot-com companies were once notorious for being mellow, laid-back
places where your boss provided ice cream and the latest version of
the Sony Playstation. But now that money is running low, user-
friendly companies have gone the way of valuable stock options. As
companies start radically downsizing, employees who were once courted
with free soft drinks and complimentary gym memberships are now being
treated like potential criminals. It's not uncommon for mass layoffs
to be accompanied by beefed-up security, abrupt computer network
lockouts and surveillance of laid-off employees.
San Francisco's popular search engine Ask Jeeves inspired a new round
of fear and hostility among Bay Area dot-commers by reducing its
workforce by 25 percent two weeks before the winter holidays and
demoting its popular CEO. What disturbed Ask Jeevers most, according
to three employees I spoke with (one is still an employee), was a
feeling that they were being psychologically manipulated. Employees
who weren't getting laid off were sent home, while the people who
were getting laid off were called to a meeting, complete with what
one former employee called "small-headed big dudes" guarding the
Ex-Jeever John (not his real name) said he would have appreciated a
chance to say goodbye to his colleagues, but even though he left the
meeting early, the building already had been cleared of people.
Another former Ask Jeeves employee said he appreciated his three-
month severance package, but thought "the beefed up security and
shutting us out of the e-mail server were kind of stupid." He
also "felt incomplete" because he couldn't say goodbye to his office
mates. Interim CEO Skip Battle denies that any employees were sent
home, although the ones I spoke to told identical stories that
contradicted his claim.
Like many high-tech companies, Ask Jeeves engineered what the
industry euphemistically calls a "reduction in workforce" in
consultation with an independent security company. Such companies
help executives plan every aspect of a workforce reduction, including
how employees should be informed that they've been let go, having
security experts sit in on exit interviews, and prepping remaining
members of a company on how to respond to bomb threats and other
potentially violent forms of retribution.
Gary Williams is the president and CEO of Interphase International, a
security firm in Silicon Valley that specializes in executive
security and reduction in workforce issues. His company has a number
of high-tech clients, and Williams says he typically advises
companies with impending layoffs to "increase security during the
reduction, and make sure the parking lot is patrolled and local
police are notified." He adds, "We look at everyone's personnel
folders and evaluate who might be a risk. Some people may have been
boisterous about their negative attitudes, and if we have to escort
somebody out, we will."
Occasionally, companies are so worried about security that they ask
Williams' staff to dress in street clothes and spy on the pink slip
parties that former employees throw at local bars. But, "we've never
had any trouble at those parties," he says.
Some of this corporate layoff paranoia is fueled by legitimate
concerns. The recent shootings at Edgewater Technology in
Massachusetts demonstrated that the Internet industry isn't immune to
workplace violence. And a few months ago, Mark Jakob was arrested for
using knowledge he'd gained from former employer Internet Wire, a
financial news service, to nearly destroy the reputation of high tech
company Emulex. Jakob sent out a fake press release over Internet
Wire which announced that Emulex was under investigation from the
SEC, and single-handedly caused a 60 percent loss in the company's
And now that dot-coms are abandoning their former beloved workers in
record numbers, there are certain techies who are saying that it's
time to fight back. They're urging their still-employed colleagues to
learn simple methods of computer network sabotage. That way, even if
severance packages suck, ex-employees can keep crippling their
company's computer systems long after they've been laid off.
To find out how easy it would be for an average Jane like myself to
engage in computer sabotage, I had dinner with hackers "Mason"
and "Dixon," who have both worked extensively on information security
issues. They said that one of the first things a potential saboteur
would do at a job is make sure she or he has some way to access the
company's network even if their password gets changed.
"For more sophisticated saboteurs," says Dixon, There are ways to
tunnel through the firewall. Nobody secures their intranet, at least
from users. So behind the firewall, everybody's naked." Mason and
Dixon say that people who aren't hackers can still cripple a network
easily. "Anyone who knows how to search the Internet can find
websites that archive viruses, and set one loose in their former
employer's network," explains Dixon. Some sites, such as Packet
Storm, even detail the exploits of saboteurs and offer scripts to
Williams agrees that sabotage should be a major concern for companies
during a reduction in workforce. "We tell companies about computer
sabotage, and advise them to change access codes, get people removed
from the company's e-mail server, and anything else that's
necessary," he says.
A worker at San Francisco's Snowball.com, the dying content network
that recently laid off 90 employees, says she and her colleagues are
waiting for the ax to drop again. And they expect only two weeks of
severance pay. Will workers like these start listening to Mason and
Dixon? Maybe they should just cut their losses and dust off the old
Annalee Newitz is a freelance writer in San Francisco. Find out all
the gory details at www.techsploitation.com.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material
is distributed without charge or profit to those who have
expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of informa-
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