My computer was recently hacked. Or so it seemed. 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 27K+ people just as a baseline. That viewing would then multiply if it was shared or retweeted.
At first, it unnerved me. I have never made a porn video. Ever. So what does one do? Write back to negotiate the terms and conditions; let the scammer know that payment via crypto-currency would be an issue because I’m a digital numpty who struggles to navigate online anything? Or tell him I will absolutely not pay, but ask if he can be flexible and, at the very least, superimpose my head on a body that, unlike mine, doesn’t have cellulite or a muffin top?
Writing back, though, is never a good move because it gives the hacker even more access. And when I woke the next morning, I thought, Go ahead, make my day!
You see, I’d been working exhaustively to grow my brand and get my books out there. If he wanted to porno promo me, it would increase my exposure (every which way). A case of ‘work smarter, not harder’? A different slant on it, granted, but still …
A shift in attitude can give you the upper hand. And the best hack when you’re faced with bloodsuckers is to maintain your sense of humour. Also, when you’re dealing with wackadoodles it helps to think like one.
Conspiracy on Cloud Nine
Four months before I received the above email shakedown, I’d written the following for a book blogger’s site*:
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 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 after that, I questioned one of the burly blokes loading up their removalist van with Whack Job’s 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.
All over the Shop
Now, all these years on as I sat at the comp researching espionage as a possible sub-theme for my next romantic comedy novel, I took a break to indulge in a bit of online shopping.
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.
Back into the research, 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 then I played with my 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 toilet, and adolescent delusions of persecution were back.
‘Why me!’ I wailed.
‘Sorry. I don’t know how to help with that yet.’
‘Of course not!’ I yelled at Google Assistant. ‘It’s above your pay grade.’
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 my next book 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)
Good advice – and I’d add – Change your password regularly! ;-D
Thank you, and yes. Then keep a record of your passwords, but in the form of a code, which is brilliant … until you forget the code. That one’s no big deal, though. It means clicking ‘forgot password’, which then prompts you to change it. Voila!