We've all got people that cause havoc in our working lives. When it comes to IT pros, you may think the greatest enemies are cyber criminals and malware authors.

But far worse are those who make the lives of these evil-doers that much easier. In fact, the greatest enemies of IT are members of the community IT serves: from clueless suits to annoying power users, from miserly managers to those friends and family members who are always pestering for free tech support. Any one of them can keep you from doing your best - or getting anything done at all.

Making an 'enemies' list is not just a cathartic exercise but also a useful one, says Mark Kadrich, CEO of The Security Consortium.

"Though they often curse the user community, most IT pros don't spend the time to identify good users from the bad ones," he says. "You ask most of them how many users have administrative access to their systems, and the answer is usually either 'I don't know' or 'all of them'. I think they need to take more time to classify their user communities."

Here are the classic enemies of IT, how to recognise them, and what you can do to keep them at bay.

Illustrations by John Anane-Sefah

NEXT PAGE: The Ostrich

  1. Who to look out for
  2. The Ostrich
  3. The Penny Pincher
  4. The Power User
  5. The Politico
  6. The Freeloader
  7. You/Me/Us

How to spot - and take down - the six most nefarious adversaries of IT

The Ostrich

The biggest enemy of many IT pros: bosses who bury their heads in the sand when it comes to technology, yet are still empowered to make critical IT decisions.

Businesspeople become the enemy when they refuse to acknowledge they have a role to play in how IT operates, says Daniel Teachey, senior director of marketing for data-quality specialists DataFlux.

"Even if it's something as simple as defining what the term 'customer' means to their business," he says. "Data informs every action the business takes, and unless the business side takes some role in the management of data, IT will be left holding the bag and getting all the blame."

Even worse are upper management types that don't understand concepts such as network security, yet override critical decisions of their network admins, says Randy Abrams, director of technical education for security vendor ESET.

"If you are in charge of network security but have no power to make decisions, then your job is to take the blame when things go wrong," he adds.

The classic example: email attachments.

"Several years ago IT managers had an incredibly hard time getting management to allow them to block executable attachments in email," says Abrams. "There was rarely a case when an executable file actually needed to be emailed, and the security advantages of blocking far outweighed the potential business costs of having these files blocked. Eventually the blocking of executables was built into Outlook, but it was a mindless battle of the clued vs the powerful clueless for a long time."

Recognising the enemy: That glazed-over look when confronted with technical questions, or the moment they open their mouths, says Abrams.

"They tend to say no first without ever understanding the problem or seeing the trade-offs - even when the trade-offs are things that can ruin the business," he says.

Your best defence: Seek air support from high command.

"You need a data governance plan that spans the entire organisation, which means getting someone higher up to step in and say, 'This is the way it's going to be,'" says DataFlux's Teachey. "They're the only ones with the will, the persuasiveness, and most importantly the budget to get it done."

But what if there's no one to give support from above?

"Then you're between a rock and a hard spot," notes ESET's Abrams. "The best you can do is hope to educate them. Figure out the best way to state your case so that it makes sense. Come up with a good analogy that's relevant to them. Knowledge can be power, but only if it's shared."

NEXT PAGE: The Penny Pincher

  1. Who to look out for
  2. The Ostrich
  3. The Penny Pincher
  4. The Power User
  5. The Politico
  6. The Freeloader
  7. You/Me/Us

How to spot - and take down - the six most nefarious adversaries of IT

The Penny Pincher

Whether it's an enterprise-level chief financial officer (CFO) or a small-business owner, a penny-wise/pound-foolish manager can stand in the way of necessary IT investments - making your job much harder.

Penny-pinching CFOs are among the biggest enemies of IT, says Nancee Melby, director of product marketing at Shavlik Technologies. "Any CFO who thinks the free patching solutions from Microsoft are good enough needs to find a new job - or get out of IT's business. Leaving your keys in the car and only locking the driver's door will keep out only the stupid criminals."

Granted, IT can be a bottomless pit, notes Peter Marsack, director of business development for Vision Computer Solutions, an IT services firm for small and medium-sized businesses. But that can often lead to an irrational fear of all spending.

"The beauty of technology is you can dump a virtually limitless amount of capital at it and still have problems in your technical infrastructure," he says. "Because of this, getting purchasing requests approved can be a tedious process even if the cause is just."

Marsack points to US medical companies that refuse to become HIPAA-compliant - despite the security benefits and the penalties noncompliance might incur - simply because upgrading all their equipment cost too much.

"I have clients who refuse to replace their seven-year-old computers because 'they still work' even though their staff burns through 10 hours a week just waiting on slow machines," he adds.

"Most people think they can just purchase computers, put a network in place, set it and forget it. We have to explain to them these machines need to be maintained and supported."

Recognising the enemy: Though you might pick up clues from threadbare office furniture or those Windows 98 machines running in the reception area, the only way to know for sure is to ask pointed questions about how the organisation allocates resources for technology, says Marsack.

"If they answer, 'We never do that,' or, 'We get things as we need them,' that's a red flag. If they say they devote X amount of pounds or allocate money on a regular schedule, they're more likely to invest the money required."

Your best defence: Gather intelligence. Find an incident where the organisation's lack of IT investment hurt its bottom line - say, a server that crashed or a backup that failed, leaving customers in the lurch - and exploit it.

"These are the kinds of things that happen when you're not allocating appropriate resources to technology," Marsack says.

Still, he adds, defeating this enemy isn't easy.

"I've not met many people who enjoy writing a check for any amount budgeted for technology, even though their entire company runs on it," he says. "The person with the chequebook is the hardest person to please in the business."

NEXT PAGE: The Power User

  1. Who to look out for
  2. The Ostrich
  3. The Penny Pincher
  4. The Power User
  5. The Politico
  6. The Freeloader
  7. You/Me/Us

How to spot - and take down - the six most nefarious adversaries of IT

The Power User

Every IT pro has stories about novices who waste IT support's time with questions about their PC's 'any' key. But the real threat is posed by users who know just enough to be dangerous.

"For me the biggest enemy is not the clueless user, but the clued-in user who doesn't have the whole picture," says Kevin Thompson, information security manager for Minnesota State University at Mankato. "This is the guy that thinks he is helping by running pre-release software he downloaded from BitTorrent. This guy has all the passwords of the other users in his office and acts as the unappointed first line of technical support. Instead, he frequently breaks things."

Not only do Power Users cause support and management headaches, they can be walking, talking security nightmares, says The Security Consortium's Mark Kadrich.

"They're usually engineering types who firmly believe they know more about the computer and network than you do," he says. "They insist on having admin/root access so they can 'configure' their custom applications or memory, and believe firewalls are for the unwashed masses. They're 'savvy' and can outwit any hacker on the planet. Besides, they 'don't have anything that a hacker would want,' so why should they worry? Their naivety borders on the criminal."

Recognising the enemy: They might be wearing Armani or T-shirts and flip-flops, but they're carrying a jailbroken iPhone in one hand, a Palm Pre in the other, and two laptops in their bag. Also: Anyone with a 'Dr.' in his or her title.

Your best defence: PsychOps. The only way to get a Power User's attention is to scare the hell out of them, then gradually bring them over to your side, says Kadrich. The exact approach depends on the position they hold in the corporate ranks.

"Executives don't give a damn about security, but they do care about their brand," he says. "You tell them, 'What you just did caused a huge number of emails to go out proving how screwed up our brand is.' That generally gets their attention."

For lesser tribe members, Kadrich makes the threat personal. Thanks to the Power Users' meathead behaviour, their personal financial information has been compromised; now they have to call their bank and cancel all their accounts.

The second prong of attack? Training and awareness. Low-key regular lunch sessions talking about the latest security breaches is the most effective way to alter people's behaviour, he adds.

"You want to make the people in your organisation security ambassadors," he says. "Taking the enemies of IT and converting them into true believers is the best approach."

NEXT PAGE: The Politico

  1. Who to look out for
  2. The Ostrich
  3. The Penny Pincher
  4. The Power User
  5. The Politico
  6. The Freeloader
  7. You/Me/Us

How to spot - and take down - the six most nefarious adversaries of IT

The Politico

As technology rises in importance across virtually every organisation, office politicians will be looking to surf the IT wave into the executive suite - even if they have to ride on your back to do it.

That's why chief information officers (CIOs) who play politics are IT enemy number one, says Steven Levy, CEO of Lexician Consulting. "These CIOs don't understand the businesses they serve, and they'll say or do anything to get 'a seat at the table.'"

In the long run, says Levy, they end up undermining the value of IT to the enterprise.

"When they talk about reducing complexity, they mean cutting the number of applications IT has to support, not simplifying the life of the business customers they serve," he says.

"They talk about IT being up to date and then can't figure out how to roll out a new version of Windows or Office until three years after it shipped. They hire bureaucrats that they think are technocrats, but the technologists in IT laugh at their skills. And they're terrified by the idea that departments and business teams might develop their own applications, seeing that as a threat to their fiefdoms rather than as a way to help the business support itself."

Recognising the enemy: Look for managers who've mastered the art of talking out of both sides of their mouths at the same time, says Levy.

Your best defence: Dig a trench and try to outlast them. Effective CEOs are veterans at spotting those playing office politics, and the CIO honeymoon period may be short, notes Levy. Or make allies with high command to shield yourself from radioactive fallout when things implode.

"The best solution is to get the business leaders in the C-suite or with highly respected voices to laud your work and talk up your solutions, thus covering your back in a way that the CIO can't effectively undermine," says Levy.

NEXT PAGE: The Freeloader

  1. Who to look out for
  2. The Ostrich
  3. The Penny Pincher
  4. The Power User
  5. The Politico
  6. The Freeloader
  7. You/Me/Us

How to spot - and take down - the six most nefarious adversaries of IT

The Freeloader

If you know anything about technology, you've surely encountered this time- and patience-sapping foe. A 'simple' question about computers morphs into demands for free 24/7 tech help when you have actual paying customers to support.

"The absolute worst offenders are people who assume that they can pick up the phone and call you any time they have even the most minor computer problems," says Dan Nainan, a comedian and 'computer genius' whose acting credits include an 'I'm a Mac' advert (he's the guy in the bubble wrap).

"Having been a senior engineer with Intel and a computer nerd for my entire adult life, I am beset on all sides by people who think they can just pick up the phone and call me any time with a computer question. Haven't these people ever heard of Google?"

Clueless and greedy users are the number-one enemy, agrees Howard Sherman, founder of on-demand tech support site RoyalGeeks. "They don't have a clue, don't want a clue, and don't even know what a clue is, yet they expect you to answer each and every question they have at work, on the golf course, at a dinner party or the pub. They shamelessly suck the knowledge out of you, in addition to your will to live."

Recognising the enemy: When they find out what you do for a living they immediately (a) ask for your card, (b) start flirting shamelessly, or (c) launch into a tale of technical woe.

Your best defence: If possible, retreat. "When you spot a user like this just start running down the hall screaming," suggests Sherman.

Unfortunately, since you're often related to these people, you will eventually run into them at weddings and funerals. Dan Nainan keeps a short list of those who deserve tier-one support. The rest he sends to voice mail or redirects to actual tech support lines. "I find if you wait 24 hours the problem solves itself - or they've found some other sucker to fix it for them," he says.

NEXT PAGE: You/Me/Us

  1. Who to look out for
  2. The Ostrich
  3. The Penny Pincher
  4. The Power User
  5. The Politico
  6. The Freeloader
  7. You/Me/Us

How to spot - and take down - the six most nefarious adversaries of IT

You/Me/Us

We have met the enemy and he is us, to quote Pogo's Walt Kelly. When things go wrong with technology, IT people often have no one to blame but themselves.

"I'd say human nature is the primary 'enemy' of IT people," says Vladimir Chernavsky, president of DeviceLock, provider of data leak prevention software. "We as humans can be reckless beings who don't feel the need to follow protocols at all times. We can take things for granted, which will result in doing wrong or stupid things, creating havoc and annoyance for people working in IT."

Scott Dunlap, author of 'The Dung Beetle Manager', says IT people can be their own worst enemies, in part due to both an excess of optimism and overconfidence in their own abilities.

"IT people want to say yes and they want to impress," he says. "But what ends up happening is that, each time they try to circumvent normal procedures for deploying enterprise IT, they end up taking some shortcuts around some hard but necessary steps. Just like you can't make a baby in four months, you can't make IT work without following the right processes."

Recognising the enemy: Look in the mirror, my friend.

Your best defence: Return to boot camp. Discipline and training help IT pros avoid succumbing to their weaker natures, says Chernavsky. However, no matter how well trained you and your IT colleagues may be, you'll still have to deal with users who aren't, he adds.

"Adopt a disciplined process and hold to it as much as the physics and politics of your systems will allow," advises Dunlap. "Anchor yourself to a good foundational systems-engineering and software-development process. That's the only insurance you have against a lot of stuff getting out of hand."

See also: It shouldn't happen to an IT admin: 6 daft support calls

  1. Who to look out for
  2. The Ostrich
  3. The Penny Pincher
  4. The Power User
  5. The Politico
  6. The Freeloader
  7. You/Me/Us