Linux/Unix Horror Stories for Halloween

This time of year, posting Halloween-related articles has been an informal tradition here at TechSource. For those of you who missed our old Halloween posts, here is a recap:

For this Halloween season, I decided to post a few old but entertaining and somewhat educational Linux/Unix horror stories that were compiled by Anatoly Ivasyuk. Actually, Anatoly has created an entire page filled with Unix-related horror stories and I just picked a few interesting entries to share with you all. Don't worry, I will provide you the link to the complete horror stories page right after my choices. Enjoy!

From: ( bill pociengel )
Organization: University of Minnesota

After a real bad crash (tm) and having been an admin (on an RS/6000)
for less than a month (honest it wasn't my fault, yea right stupid)
we got to test our backup by doing:
# cd /
# rm -rf *
ohhhhhhhh sh*t i hope those tapes are good.

Ya know it's kinda funny (in a perverse way) to watch the system just
slowly go away.

From: robjohn@ocdis01.UUCP (Contractor Bob Johnson)
Organization: Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma

Cleaning out an old directory, I did 'rm *', then noticed several files
that began with dot (.profile, etc) still there. So, in a fit of obtuse
brilliance, I typed...

rm -rf .* &

By the time I got it stopped, it had chewed through 3 filesystems which
all had to be restored from tape (.* expands to ../*, and the -r makes
it keep walking up the directory tree). Live and learn...

From: (Stephen Samuel)
Organization: University of British Columbia, Canada

Some time ago, I was editing our cron file to remove core more than a day
old. Unfortunately, thru recursing into VI sessions, I ended up saving an
intermediate (wron) version of this file with an extra '-o' in it.

find / -name core -o -atime +1 -exec /bin/rm {} \;

The cute thing about this is that it leaves ALL core files intact, and
removes any OTHER file that hasn't been accessed in the last 24 hours.

Although the script ran at 4AM, I was the first person to notice this,
in the early afternoon.. I started to get curious when I noticed that
SOME man pages were missing, while others were. Up till then, I was pleased
to see that we finally had some free disk space. Then I started to notice
the pattern.

Really unpleasant was the fact that no system backups had taken place all
summer (and this was a research lab).

The only saving grace is that most of the really active files had been
accessed in the previous day (thank god I didn't do this on a saturday).
I was also lucky that I'd used tar the previous day, as well.

I still felt sick having to tell people in the lab what happened.

From: (Ken Weaverling)
Organization: University of Delaware

A friend of mine called me up saying he no longer could log into his
system. I asked him what he had done recently, and found out that he
thought that all executable programs in /bin /usr/bin /etc and so on
should be owned by bin, since they were all binaries! So he had
chown'ed them all.

From: (Eiji Hirai)
Organization: Information Services, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, USA

I wanted to create a second swap partition on another disk and made the
partition start at sector 0 of the disk! (which sounded ok at the time since
all other regular 'a' partitions started on sector 0) Every time I rebooted,
fsck would complain about missing partition tables - I initially suspected
that the disk was bad but I later realized that swapping was overwriting the
partition table. I had lost an unknown percentage of the financial data for
the institution that I was working for at the time, right when they were
being audited! Yikes! Anyway, we were able to recover the data and life
returned to normal but I did wonder at the time whether I could still keep
my job there.

More Linux/Unix horror stories can be found HERE.

If you have a Linux/Unix horror story to share, feel free to write it down on our comment section.


  1. why do people use `rm -rf *`? its bad. always use the full path people.

  2. My biggest Linux nightmare would be waking up and finding Microsoft Windows back on my system!