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Pirates locked my computer

We’ve just learned that international thieves locked many hospital and health system computers, made medical information unavailable, causing many deaths, while delaying treatment and surgery for others.

Coincidentally, international thieves also locked up my computer. So let me describe what I learned.

My computer became totally useless when it was invaded. But none of my security services protected me from that malware. I knew the number on the screen was for ransom so I refused to call it. Instead I used a different device to look for Microsoft support on Google. I think the Google listing was fraudulent. I smelled fraud when they insisted on handling money by direct bank transfer. There were plenty of ways to transfer money so I refused and hung up. But my computer was still locked.

Then I looked up the number for a local store I’d dealt with successfully before. But heaven knows where my call actually went – Google is no substitute for the phone book I grew up with. Someone offered to connect me for an in-store appointment or to fix my problem over the phone. The time delay originally led me to look for alternatives. Mistakenly, I chose the phone. Some hours later they seemed to have fixed my problem. But they too wanted to do financials via direct internet banking. Thinking I was dealing with a familiar company, I said OK. The amount should have been $150. But the decimal point didn’t show up so it looked like they owed me (that’s another story) $15,000! And they insisted it could only be corrected in court or if I withdrew $14,850 in cash to return to them. I’m not that much of a sucker. Again, I hung up.

But I could see they were still playing with my machine. Finally, I drove to the real local store I’d dealt with before. They recommended I do a factory reset on my machine. That was a simple, quick maneuver. And they didn’t bother charging me. But, as they warned me, it deleted all my documents and some programs.

Even in this age of backups on the so-called cloud, I have multiple back-ups unconnected to the web so I didn’t expect to lose much information. But I still had to reset passwords, get back into servers, etc., and make two trips to my old office for help before I could restore my email and, crucially, my calendar so I’d know when I could schedule anything else.

It was a full week before I had most of what I needed back. The computer isn’t working like it used to. But, tired, and disheartened, I’m using it.

Lesson #1: Thank heavens I kept off-the-web backups.

Lesson #2: Double-checking everyone and everything on the web is extremely time-consuming and still hard to get right. For me, the pleasure of life is the time to live it happily and productively. The internet has become the wild west. Artificial so-called intelligence will make it worse. So, I favor more effective regulation of web advertising, and a much better system to block the spoofing of internet addresses.

Some claim they want freedom to make their own choices and that business can police itself. But with multiple frauds, PFAS, the opioid pandemic, multi-decade efforts to deny the impact of nicotine and lead on health, and to deny the impact of fossil fuels on global warming, long after the manufacturers knew the problems, I don’t see much self-policing.

I can spend my life researching everything and get nothing else done, or welcome some basic remedies to make it harder to injure or defraud us.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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