When Google’s Gadget Didn’t Self-Destruct

    January 18, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Ron Garret at Xooglers, the ex-Google employee blog, gave up an interesting insider story about the Google Search Appliance from his perspective as a Google customer while at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Garret posted his experience with the search appliance Google sells large businesses to help them search and index content.

His story dates back about four years, and comes from the perspective of a customer rather than a Googler; Garret calls it “one of the very few bits of juicy Google inside information that I have to share.” How can he share it now?

“I’m able to share it because I learned it as a Google customer and not a Google employee. Furthermore, Google has been aware of this for four years now, and if they haven’t fixed this problem by now then they deserve to be outed.”

Garret procured one of the first Google Search Appliances for JPL. One of the requirements NASA has was the need for erasing the hard drive and verifying it had been erased, since Garret and his co-workers were evaluating the device. Eventually it had to be shipped back to Google once the evaluation was complete.

Google included a “self-destruct” feature to erase the drive. Unfortunately, it proved to be a problem, as Garret wrote:

The problem was that self-destruct was a little too thorough. It erased everything, including the operating system, making the device unbootable. On top of that, the box was physically sealed with rivets. This made it impossible for us to verify that the information had in fact been erased.

Google didn’t want people rooting around in the appliance looking at their proprietary code. After much back-and-forth with Google, which didn’t want JPL opening the box and wouldn’t give them root access to verify files had been erased, they reached a compromise. A Google technician would go to Pasadena to assist with the evaluation.

Garret picks up the story after the self-destruct had been running for about an hour:

…the tech and I were both starting to feel a little impatient, so the tech logged in as root and typed “rm -rf /*’. (For those of you who don’t know unix, that is the command that erases all the files — except that it doesn’t really erase them, it just erases the directory.) When that was done he opened up the box, took out the hard drive, and handed it to me.

All the data, including all of Google’s code, was still on it….I really didn’t want to drag it out any longer, so I just thanked him and walked him and the box back to the visitor center.

Email the author here.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.