Growing up, that was my mother’s way of not swearing in front of us kids, a practice my father didn’t always cotton on to. When I heard her say it, I knew that something had gone terribly wrong. I never adopted the phrase for my own use and I admit that I do take after my father in the use of profane language more so than I do my mother with her conservative constraint. Other than the relatively rare “damn” and – when I was a bit older – “shit,” Mom expressed her annoyance and frustration with these four syllables.
This morning I heard those same four syllables escape my lips. I must have been in shock or something, because there are so many four-letter words that are so much more apt for the circumstances that I found myself in. It was bizzare and frightening and puzzling and appalling and when I actually shouted aloud, “Criminently! Someone’s hacking my computer,” I don’t really know what surprised me more.
I’ve been using computers, both personally and professionally, for over 20 years. At one time, I was the go-to person among my friends, colleagues and acquaintences when computer issues arose. That was the days of DOS, when computers were stupid expensive AND easy to understand. Well, easier than they are today. I’m afraid that the technology has far exceeded my capacity to fathom and I now happily leave the inner workings to experts. I can still turn a computer on and efficiently utilize lots of different software, but other than a few basic tricks, I’m as helpless as a baby when things go wrong.
Thankfully, things don’t often go wrong on my home computer. Generally speaking, I’ve had enormous amounts of good fortune when it comes to them over the last 2+ decades. In all that time only two hardrives have crashed on me, the latest being last week when my laptop, Alistair, gave up the ghost. It was my fault. He had been giving me signs for several weeks. I guess I just got complacent and let myself believe that he would pull through – trooper that he was! I did, however, manage to save all of my files and photos onto a flash drive before he finally collapsed into computer oblivion.
Alistair is scheduled to see the IT guy for a diagnoses next week. Depending on what he finds, I’ll make a decision as to how to proceed: repair or replace? That will be another blog, maybe.
In the interim, I have been using the library’s laptop. It’s a bit frustrating because I can’t save anything on it permanently, it doesn’t have all of my programs on it and not all of my passwords are saved on it. At the moment, that is something else that I am extremely grateful for. There were a few, but the biggies are being pulled from my memory banks on an as-needed basis.
This morning, coffee resting close at hand, I was editing a blog (See A Mid-summer Night Dream, posted earlier) preparing it for posting. When I went to save it temporarily to the hard drive, I noticed two documents that I know I did not save in the folder. Curious. I hadn’t noticed them last night, but that doesn’t mean anything; I didn’t notice Willow in the hallway on my way to bed either and nearly stepped on him. It occurred to me that one of the staff members may have been doing something the other day when they were using the laptop and forgot to delete them.
I opened the first document up and it was about a half a page of this: slkemjrepoibu0b9833j4’qj boub09u344…. Weird. The second document was about a quarter of a page of the same thing. When I went to delete them, I noticed that they had both been modified this morning while I had been editing my blog. I was alarmed. But weird things do happen with computers and so I simply deleted them and carried on.
I resaved my blog and then went into Facebook to play a turn in a Scrabble game I have going on with a friend. I intended to post the blog right after. Of course I got distracted. I needed to warm up my coffee and that led to puttering in the kitchen. While was puttering, I heard an alert on my phone indicating that I had just received a new e-mail. I glanced at the clock and surmized that it was probably a work e-mail – either the over due notices or the back up – and made a mental note to delete them when I was finished in the kitchen.
With the kitchen tidied, I returned to the computer to post my blog. The flashing light on my phone reminded me that I had an e-mail and so I picked it up. Yes, there was the over due notices and the back up summary. There was also another notice on my hotmail account. “Your firstname.lastname@example.org account has just been updated.” My what?
I logged into my hotmail account and re-read the message. Searching the nether-regions of my memory, I tried to recall having set up this account. I tried logging into it, but of course I could not access it without the password. I was about to give up when I decided to try a recent password that I have been using and, to my surprise and subsequent horror, it worked.
There were no messages in the in-box, the trash or the junk folders. But when I clicked on the account tab, my personal information was all complete and correct. I was suddenly overtaken by a paralyzing knot of anxiety. I don’t know how long I stared at the screen before…
“Criminently! Someone’s hacking my computer!”
I was shaking so badly, I could hardly type. But I managed to cancel the account. I immediately started logging into and changing passwords on a dozen on-line accounts that I maintain. I felt sick to my stomach. My brain was racing through all the things that the hacker might have done and the information he/she might have accessed. I was horrified, stupified and completely jiggered. (Whatever that means; its another of my mother’s expressions, but at the moment that’s exactly how I felt.)
Why would anyone hack into my computer and use my information to set up an e-mail account? That just doesn’t make a lick of sense.
I felt - and still do feel – utterly violated. And angry. And, quite frankly, terrified. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have someone break into my home, but this must be at least similar. This was an assault on my life. My privacy had been invaded. I wanted to rip the modem from the wall and cancell my Internet service right then and there.
I tried to calm down. I was crying, though I’m not really sure why. I paced the floor, sipped at my coffee, which I held in two hands to keep from spilling it all over the place, and tried to figure out… How? Why? When? What the hell for?
I finally cooled off enough to take some action. I forced myself to go back and post my blog. When I finished sharing it on Facebook, I noticed two apps on my home page that I didn’t put there. The knot of nausea tightened even more. I deleted them from my list. Then I checked my security settings to see if there was another connection. There wasn’t.
I Googled Computer Hacking and started reading articles about how to be sure and what to do and how to check. One link (https://shouldichangemypassword.com/) led me to a site that shows you if your e-mail has been hacked. My hotmail account was. I found it profoundly ironic that I was using the the very tools my virtual assailant did to try to stop him. Fight fire with fire? Not quite the same, but it’s all I had. The Internet – both friend and foe!
The advice I found was somewhat sketchy. Reset your IP address – didn’t work, will try again. Change your passwords - done. Back-up your files - done. Scan your computer for spyware – done, only one threat found, now cleaned.
I didn’t know who to turn to. It was still fairly early on a Saturday morning; I didn’t want to wake anyone up and I don’t know any local IT guys that I could call. My guy is in Smithers. Still in a bit of a panic state, I dashed off an e-mail to a friend who I think might have some advice for me, explaining what had happened. I had to get it out of me. Somehow. Any how. I was literally bursting from the pressure of fear and uncertainty.
It’s been a few hours now since discovering the invasion. I don’t know if I’ve solved any of the problems and I’m just a little bit afraid to log into any of my accounts. I hope this passes. I hope I’ve done the right things. I hope the bastard drops a radio into the bath with himself.
Seven years ago I witnessed a violent assault on someone that I care about very much. The memory of that incident is forever etched on my mind. The fear. The abject terror. It was such an ugly and horrifying thing to see, to experience. This feels so similar. My physcial being may not be threatened, but my mental, emotional and even my spiritual states are going through exactly the same things now as they did then. I don’t feel safe.
Then, I locked the door to my house and retreated as much as could from the world. It took years before I started to feel safe again. There’s no door here to lock. I could turn off my computer and cancell my Internet service. I could run and hide from this invisible monster. But I don’t know how that will do any good. I’m still going to have to go to work on Monday, where almost everything I do depends on the Internet.
I can’t figure out what this person wanted to accomplish. Why me? What right does this person feel he/she has to break into my accounts and use my personal information that way? What did he/she do with that e-mail account? Are there more violations yet to be discovered? Has anyone else – my friends, my family - been affected by this creep’s actions? It’s sick.
The adrenalin has stopped flowing. I’m not so much on high-alert as I am tired. I’m tired of the shitty things that people do to each other. I’m tired of shitty people, period. I still hope that something good can come of this. It has to, because my faith in humanity has been shaken to its core – again. I don’t know if I have the energy to build it back up – again.
I'm documenting this now, while it's still fresh; before the emotional scars start to fog the memory and dull the sharp edge of disgust. I'm hoping that the righteous indignation I feel right now at least alerts anyone who may read this, not just to take precautions, but to speak up and out and against this sort of crime. We need to take a stand, take back our freedoms and turn society back into civilization!
Criminently, people. May we all stay safely connected.