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Ethics and Reverse Engineering



Author(s) John L. Wallberg
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Year 1998
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English

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Method, Scenario, and Scenario-based Interview Questions


In reflecting on who to interview, I decided to concentrate mainly on company employees at this firm, as there is an established policy which was covered in our readings. I interviewed three people: my immediate supervisor; a new employee; and an undergraduate who works in a computer consulting job on campus. I was unable to interview one of my professors due to a mix up in scheduling.

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SCSI, an industry standard system for connecting devices (like disks) to computers, provides a vendor ID protocol by which the computer can identify the supplier (and model) of every attached disk. Company C makes file servers consisting of a processor and disks. Disks sold by C identify C in their vendor ID. Disks from other manufacturers can be connected to C's file servers; however, the file server software performs certain maintenance functions, notably pre-failure warnings based on performance monitoring, only on C-supplied disks. Company P decides to compete with C by supplying cheaper disks for C's file server. They quickly discover that while their disks work on C's file servers, their disks lack a pre-failure warning feature that C's disks have. Therefore, the CEO of P directs the engineer in charge of the disk product to "find a solution to this problem." Using reverse engineering, the engineer discovers that by changing the vendor ID of the P disks, the C file servers will treat P disks as C disks. P incorporating this change into its product and advertises the disks as "100% C-compatible." Representatives of C charge P with forgery; they are convinced that, whether or not P's practice is illegal, it clearly violates industry-wide ethics. P justifies its action on the grounds that the favored treatment of C's disks by C's servers is unfair and monopolistic. Moreover, they argue that using C's vendor ID isn't forgery, since it doesn't mislead people: P's disks are clearly labeled as coming from P. Their action only misleads C's software.

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Scenario Based Interview Questions

  1. Is anything illegal or unethical happening in this scenario?
  2. If you found yourself in a similar situation, where would you go for advice?
  3. Would you feel comfortable with that course of action?
  4. What is your company's policy on reverse engineering?
  5. How realistic is this scenario? Have you encountered similar situations in which you were unsure of what was "the right thing to do"?

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Cite this page: "Method, Scenario, and Scenario-based Interview Questions" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 4/10/2006 OEC Accessed: Tuesday, August 13, 2019 <>