My 79-year-old father looked at me through tears of frustration as we sat side by side, staring at his PC. In just 24 hours, he had been shunned by dozens of people who, up until now, he thought were his friends.
“They want me to delete their contact information. They say I’m sending them strange messages,” he wailed. “I haven’t done anything. I’ve known some of these guys since we were in the Army!”
“It’s OK, Dad,” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “They’ll be back. You just have to politely explain that your email account was compromised.”
“It was what?”
“Compromised. Probably by a professional spammer. Maybe you clicked on a link from somebody you thought was your friend and that link was infected with malware. Or maybe a worm infiltrated your system. Or a Trojan horse. Of course it could have been a blended threat...”
“Speak English, boy!”
“Why don’t I just call this professional spammer and give him a piece of my mind? What’s his number? Who’s his supervisor? Should we get the cops involved?”
“The police can’t help Dad,” I replied. “They can’t catch a hacker.”
How do you explain to a senior citizen just entering the Digital Age that his life could be turned upside down in seconds by unseen, nameless forces that wreak havoc on computer novices? You know who you are. Some of you are so proud of your useless skills that you post YouTube tutorials detailing how to create a virus. The videos contain your voice but not your face. But even though you hide behind a cloak of secrecy, you are not entirely anonymous. I know things about you. In fact, I know your movements from the moment you wake up. Does any of this sound familiar?
You roll off your floor mattress whenever you feel like it. You have no alarm clock because you are unemployed and have no desire to change your work status. Having a job requires both motivation and people skills. You have neither.
With the touch of a button, you simultaneously fire up all of the computers in your parent’s basement, which is where you are living. No need to log onto Facebook because, let’s be honest, you have no friends. Your only interaction with humanity comes when dealing with customer service reps from companies selling computer hardware. You need the latest and greatest equipment to continue your evil ways, don’t you? Can I ask how you were able to establish credit? Are your parents paying for all of your toys? Or do you live off a trust fund?
Are you going to shower today? Sorry, dumb question. You showered last week. But you can’t create fictitious websites without proper nourishment. So head upstairs to the kitchen wearing only your boxer shorts and grab a Red Bull from the fridge. Take a handful of cookies, too. When your mommy asks what you are doing down there, give her the same response you’ve been using since 1993. You are “doing graphic design”.
That’s not really a lie, is it? Malicious ads placed on legitimate websites look better if you add a little Flash or Java. Don’t overdo it, though. Just make it simple enough so that widow in Ohio will be duped into thinking she’s ordering a bouquet of flowers for her granddaughter when, in reality, she’s about to begin receiving hundreds of emails from various porn sites. I’m sure you frequent all of them.
Is it 3pm already? Time for a two-hour video game break. I hope you beat your high score on whatever game you are playing all by your lonesome. That adrenaline rush will give you extra energy to finish writing the code for the worm you’re creating. Maybe it will make its way to the Pentagon servers. Just think, you and you alone might be responsible for compromising our national security. What if your worm caused us to launch missiles at one of our allies? Neato!
Hold on, you’re getting ahead of yourself. Better keep practising your hacking skills on nice, unsuspecting people who never harmed you and would probably look for positive qualities if they ever met you at a party. But that will never happen, will it? So head over to that gardening newsgroup and upload a document containing the virus that you concocted. Encourage people to open it by attaching it to a link entitled “This article really helped me!”
Time to shut down for the night. Don’t get too smug as you close your eyes. Remember that Jacksonville, Florida, resident Christopher Chaney is looking at six years in prison for hacking into the email accounts of Scarlett Johansson and other celebrities. He got caught and so could you. Prison would be horrible, but there are worse alternatives.
Like experiencing a military chokehold administered by a ticked off senior citizen and his war buddies.
Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad
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