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Friday, June 11, 2010

Internet Armageddon

Sometime in 1994, my family got our first family computer that was capable of accessing the internet... by 1995 (after daily pleading) my brother and I had convinced my parents to sign up and pay for the AOL service that came with that computer so we could actually go online.  I remember setting up the account with my dad and picking a main screen name for our main account and e-mail addresses - one that I still use a variation of today - and attempting to log on for that very first time.  The modem used to dial-up connect was loud enough to wake the neighbors and once you finally got online each page would take FOREVER to load.  Our home line would be busy for hours while we were online and the monthly subscription to AOL was not cheap at the time - but my mom seemed to understand that we'd need to know how to use the internet in the coming years, so she pushed to keep it (and later threaten to take it away when we didn't do what we were told.) 

The internet looked ugly. The AOL program itself was simple enough, but actual internet pages were slow, overloaded with awkward text, limited colors and questionable information.  Chat rooms moved quickly and instant messenger became the most fun reason to go online when you're 12 years old.  You could chat with other people around the country about all sort of stupid crap and see what other stupid people were doing and talking about.  Rooms were broken down by a number of categories - age, interests, subject, sex, etc. and my brother and I knew that while the internet was AWESOME, the internet was also dangerous.  We learned quickly (and my parents reminded us regularly) of what information we should never give out.  If we were sitting there using a fake persona, lying about our age and where we lived, we had to assume almost everyone else was doing the same. We figured out what websites we could and should not click to visit without a net nanny or child-safety options.  We learned by making some mistakes and more often, through information gleaned from other user's mistakes. 

By the time my brother and I were in high school, the internet had developed exponentially and we had grown with it.  We entertained ourselves by anonymously playing pranks on other weirdo users. We had an arsenal of fake screen names and a few scanned photos of teenaged girls from photo frames which we used for our pranks. One of our favorites was on a guy who admitted to having a foot fetish in one of the chat rooms. We just HAD to send him a private message with our super cute photo and of course, he took the bait.  We chatted about some stupid nonsense for a few minutes and then he asked for a photo of her feet.  My brother has big hairy feet - and I think he had some kind of injury on his toes at the time, so his feet looked DISGUSTING (and obviously perfect for the request) so, we snapped a couple photos with our brand new webcam and sent it over.  The guy's reaction to our photos was an immediate "THAT'S DISGUSTING!  What is WRONG WITH YOU!" and "IS THAT A GROWTH!?"  Our teenage pranks left us laughing for days and every time we’d end up berating the user for being an internet perv and hitting on high school kids.  We were essentially the precursor of “To Catch A Predator” – except we thought we were funny.  Eventually we became bored with chat rooms, my brother delved into the world of MMORPGs and message boards and I leaned into the world of blogging and Geocities (helping to make the internet uglier one page at a time!)

So.  Why is it that after having a steady, cautious and loving relationship with internet for 14 years, I HAD MY FIRST MAJOR FAIL YESTERDAY?! 

I was attacked by malware.

On my work computer.

And I couldn't fix it.

It's more embarrassing than anything else.  I felt like such a newb.  I know better than to open weird files, click strange links, or get a free iPad for anything... but sometimes you just get drive-by-installed and boom, you're screwed.  The one I got was the "AV Security Virus"  which looks EXACTLY like the Windows Security Center - shield and all. (Quick PSA: don't risk clicking any links for anything called "AV Security" anything.  They have malicious links that show up as a top search result in search engines and will seriously harm your computer if you click them, so only read about it from a website you already know and trust.) So when a little pop up notification came up from my taskbar saying that "Windows has detected a threat on this page" and giving me the option to stop the threat and run a scan, I brainlessly clicked yes. Within minutes, my computer was going insane.  

Duh. I should have known better.  I was on GOOGLE.  Not some crazy website. The insanity wouldn't stop once I clicked to acknowledge the annoying sucker.  It prevented me from being able to run task manager, open web pages, and do pretty much anything - including turning off my computer using a normal shut down.

I had lost. 

There were red pages popping up, warnings for every click I made, fake security scans and now every pop up was telling me it could all be stopped if I would just buy the full price version of the AV Security Suite, which roughly translates to: let me steal your credit card number ya dummy. 

I'm lucky it wasn't one of those password stealing spyware hacks or a data destroying worm, but still.  My face was red as I apologized profusely to our IT guy while he took away my old computer and replaced it (with a faster, quieter one - silver lining!) He assured me that it happens to the best of us and that it has happened before in the office.  I was still embarrassed.  And, for the first time ever, I was kind of afraid of the internet. 
Just to be safe, I went through and changed all my passwords for everything - which I had just done about a week before.  I had to come up with new, super secure passwords, which incidentally, is becoming very difficult.  Coming up with new passwords that I can a) easily remember and b) have all the crap that super secure passwords have (with numbers, symbols and text) is next to impossible at this point.     It took me about 20 minutes to think of something I know I'd remember.  And by the time I got home - I HAD FORGOTTEN what I was pretty sure I could remember.  

Luckily I wrote myself a cryptic code to help myself remember in case I accidentally forgot, right? Yeah, except it took me another 20 minutes to figure out what my cryptic note meant.  I read about creating a new secure password easily by using a mnemonic device to remember them - such as: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Me Nine Pizzas would be: MVEMJSM9P. Which on the surface looks AWESOME, but it turns out, that's only a semi-secure password!  You need a symbol in there too!  HOW DO YOU REMEMBER WHERE YOU PUT THE SYMBOL?!  And then I have to think up 40 new AND different passwords for all the websites I visit regularly?  AND REMEMBER ALL THAT?  Arg.

Maybe it's time for me to move into a cave. 

A warm cave.  With cable TV, an ocean view and a Tempurpedic bed.

On the internet.



  1. my parents computer got that security suite... it sucked big time. they are now buying a mac this week. we got our first computer in 1996 but weren't allowed to get internet until my brother was in college and i was a senior in high school.

  2. DBD's happen to a lot of people. I remember late last year when a couple of coworkers were infected with fake A/V's from ads on

    Ads on Really?

    Yup. Weaksauce.


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