I awoke this morning to an ominous-looking email – it announced that I’ve been hacked. Uh-oh.
Now, I consider myself to be a reasonably competent, naturalized netizen of-a-certain-age. Tech will never be second-nature to me as it is with my native-netizen adult offspring, or my precocious grand nephew, who could navigate his mother’s iPad toward favorite animations before he could explain what he was doing - roughly by the time he could walk.
Thus, it got my attention. I know enough to recognize that a sentence with ‘hack’ and ‘you‘ in close proximity cannot be good news. The email read:
“I created special program to the adult videos (porno) site and suppose you have enjoyed this site for a good time (think you understand what I want to say).” Yes, I think I do understand – especially after my hacker helpfully modified ‘adult’ with ‘porno’ – so that means we’re not talking about my streaming of Masterpiece Theatre, right? Got it.
And then, after wowing me with jargon (about ‘RDPs’ and ‘keyloggers’ and ‘dual-screen video’ – what, no ‘fours-on-the-floor?’), came a dark implication. Apparently, my new friend wanted me to understand that not only could he display an offending website he claimed I’d visited, but also any, uh, appreciation that have been simultaneously expressed, webcam-ably.
“What exactly must you do?” my guy continued. “Well, I believe 1000 USD is a reasonable amount of money for this very little secret.” Not wanting to dwell on the range of ‘secrets’ to which ‘very little’ might refer, I read on: “You’ll make payment by bitcoins,” he ordered, and included both his purported wallet address and a helpful link to a primer on virtual currencies. Failure to pay within 48 hours would mean “transfer of your video files to each of your contacts, including relatives, co-workers etcetera.”
Wait – a thousand bucks? In bitcoin, no less, which I understand to be well past its sell-by date. I considered counter-offering with Confederate States currency, but a measly thousand bucks?? I’ve heard of these plots extorting $5,000, $10,000 or more. Where does this guy get-off, trying pry loose only that meager much money (unless he really has seen my bank balances)? Is That All my entire reputation is worth?
So, what to do. This situation is a bit like those ‘naked selfie extortion’ incidents. I’ve sometimes pondered that the solution to them would be for Everybody to post one of themselves, thus ruining the market, and the eyesight of multitudes. But I doubt that a pre-emptive strike in this case would be worth the time and considerable effort needed to produce it.
The clock is ticking – only about forty-two hours or so before my life might change. This situation does ‘focus the mind’, even if it’s just a hypothetical exercise.* Should I at least play along – maybe paying something, and plead poverty for the remainder – negotiate my ransom with this terrorist? Probably not.
First, is his threat credible? He’d included just enough information to spark concern in a reasonable mind – sort of like how one’s astrological forecast may sound generally plausible. But there was a distinct lack of detail – no specifics, no linkage, nothing.
Further, if he indeed had access to my PWs, why not just clean me out? Surely, he could have arranged to withdraw funds in ways difficult to trace – and unannounced, to give himself a head start. It just doesn’t seem to hang together.
But is it dubious enough to potentially stake a life’s reputation on its being a fake? I think so. First, following through on the threat would take some effort – and for what? Once he acts, he loses whatever leverage he had, in return for nothing. More likely, he might write back and maybe raise the ante to some more respectable sum (please?).
But really – would anybody care? I’ve often heard from litigator colleagues that their operating assumption is that everybody’s browser history contains adult stuff unrelated to Season 3 of ‘Victoria’ on PBS. Any such video here would also have to be pretty tame, lame and distasteful – probably generating more general and specific sympathy for the victim, than outrage, prurience or even humor. Enough of us have been hacked in various ways that these things don’t matter much anymore, and at least this identity theft hasn’t cost me anything.
But still, I wonder: WWJBD? **
* It’s hypothetical for several reasons, not the least of which is that I long ago taped a paper scrap over the business end of my webcam. I had read that bored and/or unscrupulous Admins sometimes gain access to them – just to poke around where they’re not supposed to lurk. That was creepy enough to spur me to find some scotch tape. And as to other reasons, well, they are really not your business, eh?
** What Would Jeff Bezos Do?