Saturday, July 10, 2004

Uses for Thumbscrews 

Bugger. Wednesday went so well, and Thursday was feeling good…

Then I got home Thursday night to find this email from my ISP waiting:

“Dear Customer,
It has come to our attention that a source of unsolicited email has been linked to your account with us...

“An abuse management case is currently open against your account regarding this matter. Please read the following and take any remedial measures that are required…

“Please note that if you do not respond to this warning, your account may be suspended.”

Me? A… (drops voice to a whisper) spammer? No, you’ve got it all wrong. Surely there must be some mistake…?
Four hours later... cleanup on four PCs (well okay, that needed doing anyway), Windows confirmed up to date, virus scanners confirmed up to date, 2 hopefully non-malicious adware Trojans removed, router firewall config confirmed ok – but nothing located that could account for my apparent inadvertent alter-ego as a spammer.

Not only had my PC apparently been hijacked; in trying to sort it, so was my head. Nightmare scenario after nightmare scenario played itself out in my imagination; were emails going out in my name hawking – ahem - anatomical extensions; something beginning with V; offering the secret of fuller, fatter lips?
It felt like being in the dock for a crime I didn’t commit. Like being transported in my sleep and waking up in some sleazy strip joint, frantically looking for the way out before anyone notices I’m there.

I’m a gentle soul at heart, honest I am, but it would have given me the utmost satisfaction to know that medieval instruments of torture were being applied to the tender parts of those responsible. Thumbscrews on the gonads oughtta do it…

Not just because my good (ha!) name may be besmirched, although the thought of being mistaken for one of that hideous breed does make the hackles rise. It also brings home all too clearly how the internet may be sitting dangerously close to a tipping point, its freedom of use threatened by abuse of all kinds so that it may become strangled in a new era of controls, constraints, restrictions.

Fixity and control are the enemies of creativity. Complexity theory has a view that, on a scale which runs from total, rigid control at one end to total anarchy at the other, maximum creativity sits “at the edge of chaos”, where control is loose but the anarchists’ bombs haven’t yet blown the entire structure apart. The internet has thrived at the edge of chaos; minimal controls, just an emergent order. There seems a real danger that in trying to remove the threat of the spamming, hacking, virus writing anarchists we might swing too far the other way and enforce controlling structures which would risk stifling those very features of connectedness that make the internet such an exciting, unpredictable place of emergent creativity.

But I digress…

Armed with an arsenal of alternative Trojan scanners and removers after an intensive Friday morning’s surfing I went once more into battle.

With four computers in four different rooms (two belong to my sons) it must have looked to an observer like one of those stage farces where the actors are forever popping in and out of doors, as I dashed hither and thither, a manic glint in my eye, downloading, configuring, scanning, one package after another, one machine after another.

Ha! Got you, you little sucker. “Spamrelayer.diskserv”. Missed by Norman, AVG, Trojan Remover, Adaware but captured by Spybot – Search & Destroy. So if you want a moral to this little story, it’s that a single anti-virus programme just isn’t enough.

I’m glad that’s all over. Like I said, this week had been going well and posts are brewing…

Back to current posts