Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i
Not a good week in geekland.
Interesting as it might sound to be the IT guy for an international business group (which ain't all that interesting, I know), most of my time is spent tweaking simple web pages, helping people in Chile open PDF files, helping people in Canada upgrade their 486 Tandy computers from Netscape 1.1N, unclogging print queues and clearing jams in the photocopier.
But I would have gladly pulled a million bits of shredded paper out of the bowels of our copier if I could've avoided the insanity that has recently descended upon our office.
Last Wednesday morning was, at first, like any other. I was grinding my way through proofreading a two-inch-thick stack of speeches, when my computer made that weeyoowaw sound, telling me I had new mail.
It was from someone whose name I didn't quite recognize, with the subject, "Fwd: Joke" a little bell went off in my head.
It had an attachment: "Very Funny.vbs"
The bell became a twelve-foot iron gong.
It was from a coworker. "Ryan, I can't seem to open this?" And once again, the attachment.
"Jeezus," I muttered. It was one of the many spawn of the ILOVEYOU virus that made national headlines for several days earlier this month. I felt as if my coworker had just handed me a grenade and asked, "How do I pull out this pin?"
I quickly typed out an urgent warning and sent it to the entire office, then went around and manually deleted it from the inbox from anyone else who'd gotten it. When I got to the coworker who'd tried to open it, we had a good laugh, and agreed, "Dodged a bullet there!"
I went back to my office. I wiped my brow. I noticed a few more "Fwd: Joke" messages in my inbox, and deleted them too. It was clear the virus was getting a second wind, this time making its way through the fairly close-knit global community of NGOs, international associations and trade groups. APEC. Stanford. Various chambers of commerce. Soon, a few of our own offices around the Pacific.
Then one arrived from another coworker.
Then six more, from the same coworker.
The coworker stuck her head in my door. "I think I did something..."
I ran to her desk, but it was too late. It was just finishing up sending copies of the virus to all 391 addresses in the shared address book on our server.
A carefully maintained, comprehensive address book containing addresses of Very Important Folks all over the world, including assorted CEOs, chairmen, trade ministers, and every single member of the Hawaii State Legislature.
"Ack," I said.
"It was from my friend," coworker protested.
Suffice it to say, the next few hours were hell incarnate. Phone calls from all over, half confused, half angry. A barrage of e-mail, most notices in ALL CAPS from mailserver filters notifying us that we "may be infected."
I had to clear copies of "Very Funny.vbs" scattered on hard drives all over the office (most of them thankfully quarantined after other colleagues still insisted on giving the joke a try), download updated virus signatures at each workstation, and clear corrupted files mostly pictures and music files, thank god. And I had to send a nicely worded notice-slash-apology to everyone in our address book (to which more than a few replied, "Thanks, but you're too late.").
"Well," I said at one point. "We're always saying we need more name recognition on the global level..."
As the sun started to set and the cyberdust settled, coworker stuck her head in my door again.
"So... do I have to download all my music MP3 things again?"
"Probably," I said.
This week, too, started off fairly innocuously. With only four days until the weekend, things were looking up at first.
But yesterday, just before I stepped out for lunch, I started my web browser to check something and instead of our site found a blank page with a short, rude message rife with zeroes and threes in place of Os and Es.
I was stunned. Not so much that someone cracked our webserver which we knew was a bit overdue for various service packs and patches for Microsoft's crappy software but rather that we'd come up high enough on anyone's radar as a target.
I shut things down and poked around. Nothing changed at all but the default home page. More amused than concerned, I made doubly sure no unused or phantom services were running, replaced the page, and brought everything back up.
Curiously enough, in that 90 minute period, long after the hack was removed and the site shut down, I received phone calls and e-mail messages from a handful of companies on the mainland, all of them saying something to the effect of, "Our systems automatically discovered that your site has been hacked, and although we didn't have anything to do with it, we'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to our network security services that can prevent this in the future."
Yep. 'Tis a very, very fuzzy line that lies 'twixt hackers and "legitimate" network security experts.
I checked our site repeatedly for the rest of the day, and it was still there when I left after dark.
But this morning, it was hacked again, and I had e-mail messages and voicemail from our various offices (who start their business day considerably earlier than we do) urgently notifying us of the attack.
I shut down the server completely, knocked my head against my monitor a few times, then commenced a day-long hunt for a local vendor willing to check things out without signing us to a year-long service contract. It was no easy task. I guess I should be thankful its a crowded and competitive field, but it makes sales folks pushier than usual.
(The company that used to service us went out of business with absolutely no warning in March, and we're still slowly collecting bids from various places many of them referred by friends of friends.)
We finally found a small outfit, and they sent a technician, and together we probed ports, tweaked firewall tunnels, and adjusted various monitors and logs. We then went to an independent port scanner that sprayed our server with a few thousand requests, and got a clean bill of health.
Hopefully we closed the hole. Or, hopefully the hackers will get bored with us and move on. For now, I'll have to watch our site like a hawk, and meanwhile get signed up with a network vendor post haste. This is definitely one area left to certified experts.
People are wacky.
I'm watching "20/20 Downtown" (i.e. "20/20 Lite"). Juju Chang is reporting on Jack Patrick Lindsey, a three-year-old kid who golfs.
It's ridiculous. They're comparing him to Tiger Woods. Words and phrases like "raw talent," "prodigy," "born with a gift." The voiceover gushes, "So young, so amazingly gifted..."
Oh Juju, I know you're a new reporter and all... but really.
It's golf! Only barely a sport, in my view. (Jen holds it in even lower esteem.) In any case, hardly an admirable pursuit for a toddler. Comparing music and art skills to the "talent" of swinging a golf club (like his parents are) is like... like comparing a Buddhist tea ceremony to a tractor pull.
Besides. They also say this kid can count to twenty. Well blow me down! (I know a two-year-old that can count to thirty.) And his proud mommy says, "He's almost potty trained."
Almost? At three? Get that kid off the links and into the bathroom, folks.
Speaking of wacky, have you seen the ads for Louie the Large Mouth Bass?
I could not believe they were serious. I was just waiting for the punch line, for the MadTV logo, for someone to shout, "Live from New York..." for something other than a $19.95 price tag and an 800 number.
Louie is a rubber bass, mounted on a faux oak board with a little gold plaque that reads "Louie the Large Mouth Bass." But here's the kicker:
If you set off its motion detector, it flaps its tail, bends its neck (?), and it mouths to the tune of "Splish Splash," "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and (of course) "Louie Louie."
"Louie livens up any gathering!" shouts the announcer. "Sure to be the life of the party!"
What really gets me, though, are the people in this ad. They look so absurdly happy to have this obnoxious wiggling rubber thing hanging on their wall or sitting on their coffee table.
See the attractive blonde woman bopping her head as Louie sings. Watch as the handsome man walks up to check the mail, only to find himself enchanted by the singing fish by the door. Watch the cute boy and girl stretched out next to Louie, thoroughly entertained and no doubt educated and enriched at the same time!
Louie doesn't seem to have a website, but apparently his cousin does...