My computer was recently hacked. Some nebbish with no life and in need of a hug sent me an extortionary email. It was all the more disturbing because my computer login password was in the subject line!
He said if I didn’t pay him—in bitcoins—he’d send my ‘porn movie’ to all my contacts and every one of my social media connections. Which meant 25K+ people just as a baseline. That viewing would then multiply if it was shared or retweeted.
At first, it unnerved me. I didn’t recall making this video—memory compromised by sensory overload and all that—and I was tempted to write back to negotiate the terms and conditions. I wanted to tell him that payment via crypto-currency would be an issue because I’m a digital numpty who struggles to navigate online anything, and trying to get my head around another virtual whatever would do it in. But if he wasn’t flexible, then would he mind at the very least superimposing my head on a body that, unlike mine, didn’t have cellulite or a muffin top?
I didn’t write back, though—it’s never a good move because it would give this lot even more access. And when I woke the next morning, I thought, Go ahead, arsehole, make my day!
You see, I’ve been working exhaustively to grow my brand and get my books out there. This form of ‘promo’ would increase my exposure (every which way). It’d be a case of ‘work smarter, not harder’. Granted, a different slant on it, but still.
And still, the best hack when you’re faced with this sort of thing is to maintain your sense of humour. Also, when you’re dealing with wackadoodles … maybe think like one?
I’d written the following for a book blogger’s site* four months before I received the bloodsucking email. Hmm …
Conspiracy on Cloud Nine
Ever had a nosy neighbour? The kind that keeps a constant eye on you and has a gob that won’t quit? What happens to this lot after they snuff it? I have an idea. (Note: it may border on a conspiracy theory.)
The backbiting codger who used to live next door to us, right dick that he was, dropped dead some time ago. I won’t use his real name because this morning I was left wondering if he was now undead.
So. Let’s call him Whack Job.
It felt like Whack Job had come back to haunt me, to exact an eye for an eye seeing as the last thing I said to him was, ‘Get a life, you old bastard!’
Two weeks later, I questioned one of the burly blokes loading up their removalist van with Whack Job’s rubbish furniture.
‘Is he moving out?’ Please, God.
‘Nah, love. ’E’s dead.’
I wanted to high-five the man, and felt bad about that. But it passed.
Now, post-brekky, all these years on as I sat at the comp ready to roll, I decided to first indulge in a bit of online shopping.
All over the Shop
I searched piping bag sets with nozzles, and found one on Amazon. Whack Job briefly came to mind because on the same cake-decorating page there were Despicable Me Minion silicone moulds juxtaposed with penis-shaped fondant moulds. I couldn’t resist, put one of each in the cart and checked out. Then I got stuck into researching espionage as a possible subtheme for my next romantic comedy novel.
Ads for piping bag sets with nozzles, and Minion and penis moulds followed me from site to site. I ignored them.
An hour later, an email alert pinged on my new iPhone X. One of my favourite shops was having a 24-hour online sale. I bought a pair of jeans and followed the purchase with a coffee chaser. All women know shopping is thirsty work.
Back at the desk, feet up on it, I sipped Nespresso and played with the phone. I wanted to Americanise Siri, and masculinise her (without resorting to cross-sex hormone therapy). I had Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice on my Waze GPS. At journey’s end, I loved hearing, ‘Hasta la vista, Baby!’ Could Arnie replace Siri’s droid-y phone voice? I googled.
Bags, nozzles, Minions, penises, and jeans popped up. On the comp—okay. But also on the phone? It felt like an incursion!
‘Seriously?’ I said to no one.
The female-ish, Aussie-accented voice with no Terminator spin on it responded: ‘I’m here. How can I help you?’
Tension. ‘Wasn’t talking to you, Siri. Piss off!’
She did, but Google Assistant from my Home Mini weighed in: ‘Okay. Playing “Piss Off” on Spotify.’
More tension. ‘Hey, Google, I wasn’t talking to you either—shut up!’
Google Mini has maxi boundary issues. Last night she started yammering sans prompting while we watched Marcella on Netflix. It was the episode where Marcella’s techie colleague was spying on her through her webcam.
Only days earlier, I’d given a techie remote access to my computer to help resolve an issue. That faceless, voiceless techie had a foreign name. And it wasn’t Schwarzenegger.
An Eye for an I
Was it an alias for Whack Job? Had he risen from the crypt and added piping bags, nozzles, Minions, penises, and jeans to my searches? Was he avenging me? I put masking tape over the spycam.
Working from home used to be cool—leading a cloistered life devoted to writing meant the only idiots I had to contend with were in my own head. Now, the innocence and trust of childhood had gone down the crapper, and adolescent delusions of persecution were back.
‘Why meeeee!’ I wailed.
‘Sorry. I don’t know how to help with that yet.’
‘Of course not!’ I yelled at Google Assistant. ‘It’s beyond your paygrade.’
Thinking outside that boxed-in voice and seeing the lessons inherent in every situation is our responsibility. It doesn’t come from out there.
And the lessons here?
- I’m versed in paranoia, so, stoking others’ in book no. 4 won’t be a stretch
- Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Having your head in the Cloud(s) is akin to having your head up your arse
- Spend time with real people
- Love thy neighbour, unless he’s a mud-slinging twat (then forgive thyself for telling him so)
- If you want a penis fondant mould, don’t leave a digital footprint or paper trail. Buy in-store and pay cash
- No need to have dodgy boundaries even if virtual assistants do. If you’re predisposed to talking to yourself, disable them—the assistants, not the boundaries. Hasta la vista, baby!
*Originally a guest post (Conspiracy On Cloud Nine—Get Off!) for A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog (http://asoccermomsbookblog.blogspot.com/search?q=paula+houseman)