Tuesday, 1 October 2013

“TO BE MICROSOFT OR not to be Microsoft? OY! There’s the rub!”

That was the title of my recent “Letter From New York” radio broadcast on Siren FM.

It’s topic was computer security - or the lack of it in my case.

 So, in this first of an occasional posting, I’m reprinting the “Letter” in its entirety, on the blog page of my website http://annetteandre.com/index.html, & I’m asking you to respond with comments or your own experiences with the perils of today’s internet & the dragons that lurk in its shadows !!!

“TO BE MICROSOFT OR not to be Microsoft?  OY! There’s the rub!”
A few weeks ago my computer was hacked.  Correction – a few weeks ago I was hacked.  Correction – last one, I promise.  Actually, neither I nor my computer were really hacked.  Confusing?  You’re not alone, & therein lies the tale of this ramble.
First off, when my laptop began slowing down & acting erratically, I called a geek friend of mine & heard the dreaded “you may have been hacked by the sound of it.”  He advised that I get in touch with Microsoft Support & have them run a check.
I typed in Microsoft.com/support & with the speed of summer lightning up comes the website with a comforting list of services including a live talk with a Microsoft tech to talk me through my problem.  In no time a velvety toned young man with a charming Indian accent assured me that help was at hand.
After a few instructions for me to follow to allow him access to my computer, he announced with appropriate gravity that I had indeed been hacked. And not by any run of the mill virus, but by the villainous ‘Trojan Zeus’, & to back up the alarm in his voice, there on the screen in bold letters was the warning “High Risk”.
He explained that the Trojan Zeus was extremely invasive, like a nuclear chain reaction if not eradicated completely & immediately.  Panic stricken I said I’d take it straight to my own technician, but he stressed strongly that it had to be a Microsoft certified technician.  He then asked permission to transfer me to a Microsoft certified tech, one trained to deal with the dreaded “Trojan Zeus”.
Before he did that I asked if there was a charge, & of course there was.  “Only $299 “ he chirped, & it comes with a full year’s guarantee.  “That sounds a bit pricey” I managed & before I could say that I wanted to think it over, he instantly came back with a buoyant “But it’s your lucky day!”  It seemed that his team was running a special promotion that week, & the charge would be only $159.
Somewhere in the recess of my memory remained the echo of a double-glazing saleman’s  slick pitch when he came to my door ages ago, greeting me with “Lady, this is your lucky day!”
Before my day got any luckier I beat a rapid retreat from the velvety Indian gentleman.
What in the world had gotten into Bill Gates, I wondered, when the world’s richest man needed to scam poor little moi?  Had the recession reached even the likes of him?
Only when I brought the laptop into my local repairer did I discover that I, like countless other innocents, had logged onto a bogus Microsoft website configured to replicate the authentic Microsoft site.  And to unmake my day even more, I hadn’t been hacked at all, the repair guy reported – my hard drive was ‘bad’.
I relate this travail not only to alert any and all  who might fall into the same snake pit I did, but also to ruminate on the whole question of security & trust in the world today.
From Great Britain, the country with the most security cameras in the world, to the NSA, America’s super-secret spy agency, we’re under surveillance as never before, & yet, it seems never so vulnerable to having our privacy & secrets hijacked with such ease.
Intruders still breach Buckingham Palace by low-teching it over a fence.  Thousands upon thousands of top- secret secrets have been leaked by Julian Assange & Edward Snowdon from the  NSA’s supposedly unhackable files.  So where does that leave the  likes of us? 
True, the concept of privacy, that eleventh commandment of our parents age, if breached was branded as sinful gossip, has now been deep-sixed by facebook, twitter & dozens of other loudhailer sites.  Today, the “Attention must be paid to me” generation has reaped both the rewards & penalties of the need to go public with everything that once made Rupert Murdoch a billionaire scandal monger.
But even as we willingly give away the skeletons in the closet, we still yammer for more secure ways to stay in touch.
A week or two ago, I read about Apples’ latest entry into the iPhone market & what they’re trumpeting as a revolutionary advance in high-tech security.  Instead of a password to activate the phone, a sensor will read & store your fingerprint.  Because, supposedly, no two humans have the same prints, the phone will be uniquely secure.  Apple says that they are certain that this innovation will go over especially well in China & they’re gearing up for a major marketing blitz in that country.
I don’t mean to put a damper on their dreams, but maybe Apple would be interested in my personal history with fingerprints & China.
Some years ago, when I was being fingerprinted for my American Passport, the FBI employee operating the electronic scanner finally ran out of patience when my prints refused to register after five attempts.  “You & half the Chinese women in the world” he growled as he switched off the machine.  It seems, he explained, that some Caucasian women with slight bone structure & a preponderance of Chinese women’s prints can’t be read by the scanners.  Something to do with our loops & whirls not being deep enough, & nothing to do with racial profiling.   
I don’t know if this is true or not, but if I were in charge of Apple’s upcoming assault to market their new iPhone in China, I’d give the FBI a call, or target their sales to women with a bit of heft.

As mentioned, this reprise of my “Letters” will be a now & then event – but I hope you’ll become a regular listener to the monthly live broadcast, so nimbly & effervescently hosted by Alex Lewczuk.  It’s fun!  Join us!  http://www.sirenonline.co.uk/section/shows/midweek-drive .
The day, date & topic of each “Letter” is posted here & on facebook in advance.

Please join the growing audience & my thanks to all who have contacted me with kind words & suggestions for future topics.  Come on, get some ideas flowing & send them to me.

Be well, be happy and as always, please be kind to the animals.

Cheers, Annette

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