Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Paradise ponders: mules and computer problems edition...

Paradise ponders: mules and computer problems edition...  I spent most of yesterday catching up on bills, bookkeeping, and other such chores.  Somehow there seems to be more of these things now that I've retired. :)  In the early afternoon, while chasing down one vendor to see if they'd received payment, my phone rang: my friend and neighbor Tim D. had a computer problem, and he wondered if I could give him a hand.

Well, of course I could!  Anything to get out of doing that damnable paperwork!  So I walked over to his place, a couple hundred yards north of my barn office.  On the way, I stopped by another neighbor's property to introduce myself to his mule.  That neighbor (Heath C.) had recently put up some barriers around the weeds along the periphery of his property, so that his mule could eat them down.  The mule was friendly enough, and seemed to like having company, even if it was for only a few minutes.

Then I continued on to Tim's house, where I asked a few questions and discovered that my friend had been the victim of a scam.  His wife (Jeannie) had been looking for a recipe, when up popped a window in bright colors, with the Microsoft logo, warning her about a virus and telling her to call a phone number on the screen immediately.  Unbeknownst to either her or Tim, that window was just a clever, dishonest, and deceptive advertisement served up by the recipe site.  That ad used JavaScript to provide a good simulation of a locked down computer – nothing worked.  She called Tim over, and then Tim did the wrong thing: he called that number in the ad.  The people who answered had a strong accent (Indian or Pakistani) and were members of a criminal group that makes their living scamming people who aren't very technical (like Tim and Jeannie).  They led him through installation of some tools – tools that gave them remote access to his computer.  Yikes!  Then he sat there and watched them doing things to his computer that he didn't understand, doing their level best to scare the crap out of him.  They were doing a fine job of that right up to the point where they asked him to pay $250 for their services to “fix” his computer.  At that point he hung up on them and called me.

I couldn't tell, after the fact, exactly what they did to his computer.  But one thing was absolutely clear: it had serious problems.  It was extremely slow, strange programs were running in the background, and it was completely sawed off from the Internet.  Years ago, when I was a Windows user, this would have instantly called for a re-installation of the operating system.  Windows 10 has a “fresh start” option built in to make that easy (allegedly), so we started that up.  Two hours later it was still running, with no sign of completion.  At 7 pm we gave up and decided to let it run all night.  This morning we'll see if it finished.  If so, perhaps his computer will be working again, albeit missing all his data (which he has backed up) and applications (which he has very few of).  If it hasn't finished, we're going to power cycle his computer and try again.  It may well not boot, in which case he's going to take it to a local computer shop and get Windows 10 reinstalled from DVD.  Sheesh!

Those damned ads are evil!  They looked so scary, and so genuine, to Tim and Jeannie – exactly as their creator intended.  The foreign criminals made themselves look legitimate by using a forwarding phone number that appeared to be American, but in reality was answered by someone in an untouchable foreign country.  Those criminals have basically no risk at all, and a significant chance of success once someone calls their number.  The ads cost very little, and only if someone clicks on them.  I can't think of any way to stop this sort of thing, other than educating every last computer user in the universe.  Tim and Jeannie are now educated.  I'm also trying to persuade them to get a Mac. :)


  1. I'm willing to kick a few bucks into a Kickstarter project to hire Blackwater to make a few examples out of these weasels.

    1. I like it! I wonder how much it would take to get Blackwater's interest? I bet if someone took out just one of those call centers in Pakistan their recruiting would get a lot tougher...