Hacked, bothered and bewildered

Okay, I’ve taken liberties with the lyrics of that song, but I am on my 19th Nervous Breakdown (there I go again!), after two weeks of viruses and Trojans.

Now that has nothing to do with illness or sex, but computers! In the 1950s and 60s, Trojans referred to condoms (or much further back, Greeks bearing gifts in Virgil’s Aeneid), now it’s all to do with Trojan Horses malware. Just Google it and you’ll see what I mean.

It all started when I was finishing my blog on Mitt Romney two weeks ago http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-6I (maybe I can blame it on him!), and suddenly what looked like a legitimate Microsoft warning popped up, saying I had to click on the repair link as my hard disc was critical. It had a series of predictions of what I would lose, and a green line running across the screen, wiping out my hard disc.

After much contemplation, I clicked and it came back to say the recovery was not possible because I did not have a license … and yes, you guess it, all I had to do was click again to get that elusive link. I was gone. And all the moving graphic’s predictions of what was going to happen came true. Much of the hard disc was gone.

What to do next? Well, I called a mate, Mr S, who’s an editor. He came over and recovered some of the hard disc, but all my documents (like this one) had gone. He recommended a computer expert, Mr G, and called him to say I needed help.

Did I ever need help! I was standing beside my mate as he tried everything he could, to no avail, and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach – the kind you get the night before an exam when you haven’t studied enough – not knowing what to do, and thinking of all the work and photos I had lost. “Sit down and relax,” he said, which was impossible. It was like waiting for the policeman to breathalyse you when you assumed you were over the limit. There was absolutely nothing you could do about it. I thought Windows had backed up all my data, but it hadn’t. My friend had checked and it hadn’t. “Backup, backup, backup,” he said.

“That’s the trouble with computers,” I said. “No matter how much you think you’re safe a hacker comes along and breaks your heart.” To say I was depressed was an understatement. “You’ve been targeted,” said my friend, and I had to agree with him. I felt like an idiot.

I took the computer to the expert at his shop in a nearby suburb, and he knew it was a virus. It took him two days to get rid of the nasty little bugger.

Two days later I was writing my blog on the Batman movie massacre in Denver (http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-70), when I noticed the computer was slower than normal. My anti-virus program said there was a Trojan Horse on the computer, but it couldn’t get rid of it. That would need a rescue disc.

Mr S did burn a disc for me – my computer was dangerous to look at, let alone use – and it didn’t work. When I arrived home from the ritual disc burning, my wife was on the phone, and said a technical person wanted to speak to me. I thought it was Mr G, but no, it was a bloke from a technical company who wanted to know if I had a problem with my computer. “How did you know?” I asked. “Oh, we know there are a lot of viruses going around,” he said. I hung up and googled the company to discover it had a number of complaints from people who claimed they had gained their trust, got their online bank passwords and then took money from them. It was possible the “company” had placed a Trojan Horse on my computer.

Several phone calls to my anti-virus program and to Sony, who said I would have to bring it in to get it repaired, meant another trip to my computer expert – Sony would probably take a while to fix it, and I was getting twitchy!

Three days later, I got the computer back, clean and free of viruses and Trojans. Well, for the time being, although I have taken all the recommended precautions. I was planning on writing a funny blog on how I caught a virus, and was then trampled on by a Trojan Horse, but it has been a bit painful. You don’t know how much you rely on your computer until something like this happens.

I went to the local police station and they told me it happens all the time and gave me the website and phone number for SCAMwatch —www.scamwatch.gov.au (ph: 1300 795 995). Run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), SCAMwatch provides information to consumers about how to recognise, avoid and report scams, and you can subscribe to their latest email alerts. By the way, the company who called me is no longer on Google. I have reported them to SCAMwatch.

All I can think of is that famous line from the American TV series, Hill Street Blues, when Sergeant Phil Esterhaus sends his police officers out on their daily rounds with a warning: “Let’s be careful out there.”

Like those fictional mean streets, cyberspace is also a jungle, and unless you’re very careful, they will get you when you’re not looking – and even when you are.


PS I’ve just heard the news on the ABC that Gore Vidal has died at the age of 86. He was one of America’s greatest novelists, essayists and political satirists. He wrote what he called the biography of the United States in a series of historical novels, Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood and Washington, DC. He also wrote a highly acclaimed novel about the Roman emperor, Julian.

What I loved about Gore Vidal was his savage wit, often taken out on right-wing politicians and commentators. In an essay from The Nation, Through a Vote, Darkly, published in his book, Virgin Islands, Vidal describes covering the 1997 British elections and Tony Blair’s Labour launch as a commentator for the BBC, noting the mood of the Labourites as paranoid, “particularly the handsome blonde girls in black suits with curled lips and flashing eyes.”

After Blair leaves, Vidal continues: “The press, seeing that I’m all that’s left in the room, surround me. The blondes try to shoo they away. Question: ‘Are we becoming more Americanized?’ Answer: ‘Well, you do resemble us in that you now have a single party with two right wings.’ Question: ‘Which wing is more to the right?’ Answer (in my gravest and most reverential voice): ‘One does not bring a measuring rod to Lilliput’.”

Ah, Gore Vidal. We will miss you.

4 thoughts on “Hacked, bothered and bewildered

    • Bob, Taking the long view is something I, and many of my colleagues, and I dare say, your good self, have always aspired to. The 24-hour news cycle seems to allow only a short(sighted) view. Thanks for your comment. Cheers.

  1. The time has come Tommy…. get a Mac!!

    Gore Vidal can be credited with so, so many great quotes… e.g. “Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half of them never voted for President. Let’s hope it’s the same half.”

    • Tim, You are at least the tenth person to tell me to get a Mac. I am seriously considering it!
      Thanks your comment, and that quote you mention is also in this book of essays I pulled down from my shelves last night.
      Thanks also for the opportunity to quote the end of a piece Vidal wrote in The Nation about the death of Richard Nixon in 1994 in the same book. You know how much I hated Nixon — about the same as Hunter S. Thompson whose obit I was able to write.
      Anyway, Gore Vidal finds a film clip of Nixon in his vice-presidential days (1952-1960) at an official banquet, and notices that a waiter has given Nixon’s dessert to the man next to him — after he ignored the waiter. Then the waiter ignores him … and Nixon reacts. This is how Gore Vidal describes Richard Milhous Nixon: “Now the Nixon face is beginning to resemble that of the third English king of his name. Eyes — yes, mere slits — dart first left, then right. The coast is clear. Ruthless Plantagenet king, using his fork like a broadsword, scoops up half the dessert on his neighbour’s plate and dumps it on his own. As he takes the first taste of his dessert, there is a radiance in his eyes that I have never seen before or since. He is happy. Pie in the sky on the plate at last. R.I.P, R.M.N.”
      Gore Vidal captures Richard Nixon, the greedy crook.
      Vale Gore Vidal!

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