The Good ol' Days

Aug 27, 2014 | Random

I’m not much for nostalgia.

This summer, however, I think I’ll make an exception. I have one of those double-digit year class reunions coming up, and I am flooded with fond memories of my teenage years: driving to Clovis with my best friend Todd in his Camero, Crumbacher’s “Thunder Road” blaring in the speakers while the countryside flashed by, playing summer-league basketball and hitting my first shot, putting our team in the lead against Nathan Erdman’s for the only time during a 40-point loss, the bliss and ignorance of youth, staying up until 4:30 on a Sunday morning delivering papers in the rain, wondering if this girl I liked liked me, being gawky and uncoordinated…okay, that’s enough. I’m finished reminiscing.

I much prefer THE NOW. I’m now driving myself (sometimes in THE BLUE TRUCK) to Clovis, rock music still blaring (when I’m alone), I lose at golf instead of basketball, no more paper routes in the rain, but plenty of stressful late nights/early mornings working in climate-controlled comfort. I married the girl that I liked that liked me (different girl than in high school, but same principle), no longer gawky and uncoordinated (or so I tell myself), completely different now…right?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I had successes and failures, hopes and dreams, pressures and promises in those days just like I do now. The times have changed. I have changed…in some ways, but not in others.

Is life really different for any of us now?

There are three correct answers to this question: 1) “Yes” 2) “No” and my personal favorite 3) “It Depends”.

No matter how you philosophers out there would answer the question, one thing is unquestionably different now than it was during my high school years: we HAVE the Internet and WE USE IT!

When I was in high school, computers were more of a novelty than a practical tool, at least for us. The first time I ever used one Al Gore was still inventing the Internet in his basement. A couple of us in high school started playing around on a TRS-80. It had a game called “Camel” that was on a cassette-tape-like player hooked up to the computer, and you typed in commands in grey text. Anybody remember that one? Technology advanced rapidly, and later in my high school years, I typed up my science fair research and results papers using a word processor called Multi-Mate…green, glowing text. Color Computing! It was very awesome. (Hey, it was the 80’s okay?)

By the time I started college, PCs and networks were really coming into vogue and times were changing quickly. I was working for the university’s computer services department the first time I used the internet: I connected to the University of Michigan’s Library Card Catalog…in green, glowing text.

A few years later, Windows 95 hit and we were off and running. It really hasn’t been that long ago, but here’s how much times have changed: I was configuring Internet Explorer on one of the many machines in one of the many student computer labs on campus (because wireless didn’t exist and the dorms weren’t wired), and it asked if we were using this thing called a “firewall”. I had no idea what that was, so I asked one of my many bosses and he said, “No, we don’t use one of those, and we don’t need to”. I asked him what it did, and he didn’t really know, just said that it had something to do with keeping people from looking at your computer…and I remember thinking, “Why would anyone want to do that?” And so I continued configuring the browser on that system, and many more after that, all-the-while pitying the poor, paranoid souls who thought they needed one of those firewall thingies.

You know, now that I think about it, that was a long time ago.

The concept of using computers with and for nefarious intent became clear to me in the mid-90s when a decent-sized company for whom I had done consulting work in the past called me one morning:

Me: This’ Richard.

She: Hi, Richard. This is Cathy [not her real name]. Listen, do you think one of the guys at work could be sending me some kind of weird e-mail that pops up on my screen? I’m getting these messages saying “Cathy is a big, fat idiot”

Me: Uh…not in an e-mail message, just on the screen?

She: Not in e-mail. I was just typing on Word, and it just shows up every five minutes. I click ‘OK’ and it goes away then pops up again.

Me: Do you have anti-virus?

She: [long pause] What?

Me: That sounds like a virus…are your definitions current?

She: [longer pause] What?

Me: I’ll be right there.

Sure enough, it was a Microsoft Word virus. The virus obtained the person’s name by reading it off of files in the computer, and every five minutes, it insulted the individual by name. Kinda’ funny, actually. Cathy was and is a sweet person, and not a big, fat idiot at all. For others working there, however, the insult was dead-on.

They didn’t have Internet access, so they didn’t purchase and install anti-virus. One of the employees brought a floppy disk from home and put into one of the computers to continue working on the file. By the time I arrived on scene, there were 375 infections. After installing anti-virus, the infected files were easily cleaned and normalcy returned. The virus was essentially a harmless prank.

Those were the good ol’ days.

Back in those days, viruses were more of an annoyance than anything else. Sure, the “I Love You” e-mail virus caused a lot of damage and was expensive to clean up, and there were viruses that destroyed data, crashed computers, and made life difficult and frustrating. But, at least you knew they were there. You knew you had a virus. You knew you had a problem.

Those were the good ol’ days.

This is now: there is an excellent chance (85% or higher) that you are reading this on a computer that is infected with a virus, even though you have antivirus running and your definitions are up-to-date…and you have no idea that it is there.

That’s how much times have changed.

You see, these days, hacking is big business…and business is good.

Gone are the days of the “script kiddie” and amateur who googled “How to Hack a Computer” and followed the instructions. Many of today’s hackers are professionals, often working for eastern European organized crime or foreign governments. They are highly educated, highly innovative, and highly paid.

Remember the movie “The Usual Suspects”? In a movie made with a great script filled with great quotes, one rings particularly true here:

Verbal (Kevin Spacey) to Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri):

“…Nobody ever saw him…You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

I love that line. That’s how these guys operate. Under the radar. In the darkness. Unseen. Unknown. But everywhere.

What is the advantage to their stealth? If you don’t know they are there, you can’t stop them. If you don’t realize you have a problem, you can’t deal with it.

What do they want? Your information? Sure. Your identity? Sure…why not? Your money? Well, that, too, if the opportunity presents itself. In the end, they want what everyone else does: Power, which in its most tangible form, is money.

Sure, they can steal money from your bank account (and if you are a corporate/business customer, that’s probably what they will do…more on that in a later blog), but then you’ll know about it fairly quickly, and that’s usually a one-time shot. So much better and lucrative if they can steal your computer!

How would they do that? Well, the answer is fairly simple: you install a virus on your computer that gives the hacker the ability to control it without your knowledge. Tens of thousands (or more) of other regular folks install the same virus, giving the hacker remote control access to tens of thousands of computers. These hackers, called botnet herders, use these compromised computers (botnets) to attack other computers and networks. What is more, they often sell time on these botnets, on the black market, to whoever is willing to pay for them. While these networks are usually used for spam and fraud, terrorists, mobsters, industrial spies, foreign governments, anyone willing to pay, can use your computer to their own ends.

Your computer, the one on which you are reading this now, could very well be used by Al-Qaeda to launch a cyber attack at the Pentagon.

Seriously.

So, not only is keeping your computer free from viruses important to protect your assets, it really can be a matter of national security.

Hopefully, by now, you’re a little freaked out and a little scared. Good. You should be.

The Internet is a very dangerous place, but most of us don’t treat it like that. We click on every link, install every application that asks; we click ‘Yes’ and ‘Run’ and ‘Ok’; we forward every e-mail that has a cute animation or profound saying; we run every Facebook app (the thousands of little games on the site); we click, we click, we click….

The Internet has been called the Information Superhighway, and most of us are driving 90 mph, without insurance, reading a book, steering with our feet, eating a cheeseburger, drinking straight vodka...oh, yeah, and texting. If you did this on the way to work, do you think something bad would happen? My money’s on “YES”, and that is EXACTLY what most of us are doing online.

So, the obvious question is, “What should I do now?”

The answer: STOP IT! SLOW DOWN!

Think before you click! Realize that there’s no free lunch and that downloading 20 songs for $.99 is a scam, even if you get the songs. You’re downloading something else, too. Are the free games you’re playing online really free? Are you really getting a great deal on a Rolex or prescription meds? Antivirus and firewalls are essential, but they WILL NOT protect you completely. Modifying your online behavior can be more effective than all the security software in the world.

Our bank believes so strongly that this is a serious problem that we will be offering free, in person classes to our customers detailing how to protect yourself and your computer online. We’ll talk about how to get rid of hidden viruses (it’s not pleasant) and how to make it more difficult for them to come back. We’ll tell you how to be safe and smart online. There will be a separate emphasis and possibly separate classes for our commercial customers as well. We will begin offering these classes in several eastern New Mexico communities in September.

This is serious, folks, and you owe it to yourself to learn how to more safely operate online.

I’m not much for nostalgia, but where computer security is concerned, I miss the good ‘ol days.


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