When I studied for my MSIA (Master of Science, Information Assurance) degree, we were taught all aspects of information security, particularly vigilant preparedness. But after receiving my degree, I had my second child, and chose to stay home with her. When you’re a stay-at-home-mom, you don’t expect much more than a random virus to hit your computer. Any of the standard antivirus products are acceptable for your average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill home computer that doesn’t do a heck of a lot more than check e-mail a couple of times a day. I also run a small discussion board, and, for a while, I kept a blog. Not the world’s biggest target. In fact, pretty puny.
When I go onto the Internet, I like to be an open, friendly person. I like to help people. I talk about my life, and encourage others to do the same. I particularly enjoy the aspect of being an aspiring writer who writes about aspects of the business as they happen. Sharing my experience, I hope, will help and inspire other writers as they walk along their long and lonely path.
But any celebrity will tell you the dark side of being exposed as an approachable person is the fan with an irrational obsession.
That’s what happened to me.
I had known—and blocked, ignored, deleted and reported—an irrationally obsessed person for a full ten years. Over a decade, he would change e-mail addresses periodically and flood me with infatuated e-mails again. I blocked, ignored, deleted and reported at least three e-mail addresses to law enforcement as well as an IP address, all to no effect.
Abruptly, he gained entrance both to my blog and my password-protected discussion board. Utterly fed up now, and feeling violated, I finally told him off in no uncertain terms. Because he had ignored both years of cold silence and occasional polite e-mails letting him know to leave me alone, at last I told him off publicly on my blog. I felt it was the last straw, to make sure he took notice. He did.
The next day, I barely had a computer left.
This virus, based on “Love Letter” (and which my “fan” renamed “Savvy” after my nickname), gets into your computer and hits all JPGs, Excel documents, and Word documents. It overwrites data with unusable, unreadable characters and then saves the garbage over your file so that the original is impossible to retrieve. Impossible. The virus is designed to completely, irretrievably, wipe out everything—in short, to destroy one’s computer irrevocably.
According to the “experts,” no one in the private sector has yet been hit with this. In taking my computer around for repairs, I was told that only the Pentagon and abortion clinics ever see a virus remotely like this—a point-blank, malicious, full-on, black-hat attack. The theory advanced by those who attempted file recovery was that this virus was probably designed for military application. Even forensics experts who can pull the files off burnt computers cannot fix this. It is, they claimed, like an alien species. According to research, IBM is the only company who had ever reported seeing this virus before, and despite their best efforts they could not find a way to fix it.
Funny….guess where my biggest fan works?
The lesson: back up, back up, back up. I had most of my files backed up, but my most recent one, a novella on which I was working, was not backed up yet because it was new and unfinished. It was also, in my estimation, one of my most valuable files. It would have been easy to e-mail it to myself. It would have been easy to copy it onto a flash drive. It would even have been easy to print it out. But I did none of these. I was complacent.
This taught me a valuable lesson, beyond be careful whom you know on the Internet. It’s that there are indeed evil, crazy, malicious people out there, and they can attack even the smallest of us.
Back up your work. Even if you are not finished with a file, back it up. Even if there’s time to do it tomorrow, back it up. Even if there’s other, seemingly more important, work to be done, back it up.
The stalker aimed the virus like a gun and shot out of helpless, jealous rage. And therein lies the final lesson: people are the real virus. Still, this stalker did not steal, mar, or destroy what he really wanted to: my heart.