It’s a hostile world, perhaps exceptionally so in the online world. My step-dad, a software programmer, has been saying this to me for years. I always knew he was right, but it wasn’t until I found myself on the receiving end of what is ultimately an act of cyberterrorism that I truly internalized the lesson. I think, by now, most of us know that if you get an email regarding a distant relative and a small fortune that it’s probably a scam, and you should delete that shit ASAP. I mean, I don’t know your family, maybe it’s legit. Not where I’d place my bet, though.
But what if you requested the information?
My company posted a help wanted ad on Craigslist. Because I handle all of our communication with the outside world, it made sense to funnel applicants to me. We received lots of legitimate inquiries and have successfully hired employees this way in the past, so when I received an email referencing the ad I posted with a resume attached, I wasn’t suspicious. It caught my attention that it was password protected, but resumes frequently have personal information on them, so again, it didn’t really red flag for me. When it was all said and done, it only took 4 clicks for a complete stranger to thrash my entire world.
I was hit with Cerberware encryption software, which seeks out and encrypts your most important files: your .docs, .jpegs, .mp3s– basically, your documents, pictures, and music. Files that have the highest sentimental, monetary, or utility value to the user. The twats don’t steal them, they just make them completely inaccessible to you, the owner. Cerberware Ransomware is a 2 MB encryption code. I don’t know much about computers, but in essence it’s so big that it would be impossible to decode without a “key”. And that’s where they get you. You see, they send you this lovely notification telling you what you’ve been hit with, describing what encryption is, and then demanding– in my case– $679.00 to sell me the key I need to access my own property. The real kick in the teeth is the part where they tell you that this isn’t malicious and together we can make the internet a safer place.
Did I mention that in the event that you attempt to recover your files through other means, the Cerberware will corrupt them, rendering them permanently irrecoverable? Oh, and the assholes give you a deadline. I was given 5 days to pay the discounted rate and if I missed it, the amount would double. Fail to pay by the second deadline and they corrupt all your files anyway.
Not malicious? Fuck you very much.
As soon as reality came crashing through my confusion, I experienced the gut-wrenching horror that I am– was– 58k words into a novel that I needed to get to my editor in three weeks and nearly half of that was completely unrecoverable. At a conservative guess, the irrecoverable material represents around 80 hours of work on my part. That might not sound like a lot, but I have a full time job. That 80-hour effort has been spread out over months and it doesn’t include any of the time spent on research– files that I also lost, by the way.
The word ‘devastated’ comes to mind.
My knee-jerk reaction was to call my step-dad, upon which I received the comforting news that, “These guys are bastards. You’re going to have to pay them.” What he means is, I need to pay them if I’m going to have any hope of getting anything back. After extensive research, what we found is that there are some reconfiguration programs that people have tried, but success rates are low– and by low, I mean practically zero. We also discovered that there are lots of reports of people paying the money and receiving nothing for it. Discouraging, to say the least.
Not surprisingly when the shock wore off, it made room for anger, at myself– for not backing up when I knew better– and at whoever did this. Perhaps naively, because I know that there are some truly terrible people out there, but I find myself oddly hurt that someone would do this. My moral compass might not always point True North, but I do take special care not to do things that I know will be hurtful to others, so this level of intentional cruelty is somewhat incomprehensible to me.
There’s no denying, all my options suck some serious hairy ball sac, so what do I do? Try to make the least crappy decision and hope for the best. Oh, and kiss my files goodbye.
To whoever did this,
I’m certain that you will never read this, but it makes me feel better to say it. I don’t know whether you believe the diatribe you’re spouting or if you’re just that much of an asshole, though I suppose it doesn’t matter. Whether or not you would have released my own property to me, your scheme works because people pay, which is a sort of endorsement of what you’re doing. I cannot in good conscience allow myself to financially support the deliberate harm you are causing.
You say this program isn’t malicious; I’d laugh at the sheer audacity of it if I wasn’t so compelled to cry. My friends tell me you don’t deserve my tears– and they’re right– but I know the truth. My tears are mine alone. I’m a drop in the ocean to you. Not even a blip on your radar. You don’t give a shit about my tears, just my money, which isn’t yours to have either. While I’m not exactly winning in this situation, neither are you, and that’s enough for me. It has to be.
To me, the work you stole is worth the amount you’re demanding. More, even. However, in spite of the fact that it literally makes me ill to think about my loss, I won’t pay you. Not one cent. Not ever.
Kindly, take your lack of maliciousness and choke on it.
To Anyone Reading This,
Life frequently gives the test first and teaches the lesson second. The internet is a hostile place. Don’t open things from people you don’t know, no matter how legitimate it might seem. It’s just not worth it. Perhaps even more importantly, back-up your work. Even if we’re cautious, accidents happen. Shit gets through. Computers crash. The worst sometimes happens. There are no words to express how desperately I wish I’d been on a back-up regimen. It takes only moments and I could have spared myself a great deal of agony. Discipline weighs ounces; regret weighs tonsClick & Tweet!. Don’t set yourself up to run your race with weights around your ankles.
You might have guessed, but I lost half of what I’d written of Destroyed. The story’s still there, right where I need it: in my head. I can– and will– rebuild, but it would be a lie to say I’m fine. I’m not fine. I’ve spent the past ten days grieving. The task of re-writing and finishing in time to publish by October 2nd feels insurmountable. While it feels insurmountable, the only way to truly fail would be to quit. There’s nothing else for it except to get up, dust myself off, and keep on creeping on. So that’s what I’ll do.
Don’t let the bastards get you down. As an avid reader, I know how insufferable it is to wait for the next book in a series. I adore you all and would never make you wait longer than absolutely necessary. Bear with me Destroyed is coming.