Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Gather ‘round, friends, and learn from my mistake.

Like me, you may be low-tech and sentimentally attached to an old but familiar and easy-to-use computer operating system and device. You know which shortcuts buy you an extra few minutes per day and which keys require a firm tap.

Even as I upgraded to a newer device and operating system, I couldn’t bring myself to ditch my venerable desktop computer with Windows XP. Why? I liked XP and the oldie-but-goodie version of Word that ran on it. It was ideal for first drafts, letters to friends, and lesson plans.

In life, there’s a place for sentimentality. When it comes to the Internet, reserve mushy thoughts for photos of kittens opening their eyes for the first time. Don’t let nostalgia for an operating system blind you to the fact it may put out the welcome mat for hackers. Use outdated devices as word processors if you want, but detach/cut/unhook them from the Internet.

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP with the patches and safeguards necessary to keep the system free of malware. That’s when I should have cut my desktop’s Internet connection. I didn’t. Why? Laziness, overconfidence in the anti-malware program I used on the device, and the certainty no one in the universe cared about me, my writing, vacation photos, or the quizzes and tests I’d created over the years.

Low-tech, sentimental types are easy pickings for hackers. One morning, my husband and I found this message on our old computer’s screen:

Wait? What? Hackers encrypted our data and are holding it for ransom? They want us to buy a “key” to decrypt it? Oh, and we must purchase this key via bitcoins within three days or our data would be lost forever?

With my newer device, I Googled “hackers holding computer data for ransom” and discovered we were far from alone. Police departments, lawyers, and small companies have fallen prey to these faceless, voiceless thieves. Read this and this

Hackers may gain access to up-to-date computer operating systems via seemingly innocuous emails advising users to update software. Click on the embedded link, and the hacker’s in. My outdated Windows XP system would have been even easier to penetrate.

Hubs checked with computer-savvy friends who advised us to cut our losses and put our chances of receiving the “key” from the hackers at less than fifty percent. What’s more, even if we paid and obtained a key, there’s no guarantee the same thing wouldn’t happen again. After all, people who pay a ransom once are likely to pay it twice.

Fortunately, I had back-up copies of my writing and Hubs had back-ups of our photos.  I wonder how many people buy bitcoins in hope of retrieving baby photos and kids’ school pictures?

The hackers gave us a deadline, and we watched it pass. Once it did, we removed the hard drive from our desktop computer and smashed it.

Learn from our experience.  Use old devices and old software at your risk and sans Internet connection. Back up everything and store your backed up data on a stick, on another device, and in the cloud.

Let’s be careful out there.


Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

Oh good grief - what a mess. This world just isn't safe anymore. And you are correct, why in God's name would anybody want your photos or my photos or the next door neighbor's photos? What good are they to anyone else? What a mess.

I too have saved my photos on hard devices as well as my manuscripts and I'm pretty good about renewing my virus software and have my laptop properly maintained by professionals. It costs me some money every year, but at least it affords some peace of mind. There are no guarantees though so even my efforts could be wasted.

Doesn't it make you feel violated? Like someone actually broke into your house and rummaged around in your things?

I'm sorry Pat. I guess the silver lining is that a lesson was indeed learned. Better luck with the next wave of technology.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Jennette Marie Powell said...

Whoa, you got ransom-wared! And yes to everything you said. Update it, or disconnect it! Another lesson: always back up anything you don't want to lose. That's a lesson a lot of people need to learn too, so glad you already had!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patricia/Jansen,
I'm guessing a lot of hackers are so young, they've never cherished the photo of a newborn child or that of a friend or relative who's since passed away.

You are smart to safeguard your data. I wish I'd ditched Windows XP a year ago. As you pointed out, I learned a lesson.

Your vacation photos are better than mine, so take good care of them.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette.
Ransom-ware is a punchy verb, but I hope I never have to use it or anything like it in conversation ever again. Meanwhile these hackers are giving bit coins a bad name.

Sarah Andre said...

Pat, how AWFUL! I have seen it on TV news but thought it was very rare. I cannot understand why the Windows XP firewalls would lapse. Maybe Windows 93...! SO sorry this happened to you. :(
Miss seeing you!

coleen patrick said...

Ugh. Sorry, Pat. I also saw this on the news and thought it rare. But wow. A digital home invasion that law enforcement can't do anything about. Sigh. Thanks for the reminder, Pat.

Karen McFarland said...

Oh noooo! What a nightmare! I cannot even begin to imagine. Pat, I am so sorry. As I read your post, it reminded me of a Good Wife episode. The law firm had the same thing happen. Geez, this is awful. So were you able to just replace the hardware or did you have to go out and buy a new computer? See, this is why I bought a Mac. My old computer broke down for the last time. But that said, I get irritated with all the updates. I guess I should count my blessings. It's probably the reason why I haven't been hacked. Yet. I say that because one never know. What a giant pain in the you know where. May the techie force be with you my friend. I'm sending you a great big hug! :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sarah,
I miss seeing you, too!

Guess what I did with my up-to-date laptop? I bought LOCKED, LOADED AND LYING. What would Lock Roane do to those hackers? They don't want to find out.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,

I feel like a dope for sticking with Windows XP longer than I should have. Let's hope techno-dinosaurs like me are rare.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Karen,
Wait! What? Alicia faced the same problem? If The Good Wife hadn't changed nights, hopelessly confusing me, I might have caught that episode. You can bet I did not react with Alicia's steely resolve. Like her, though, I had a large glass of wine then decided i wouldn't give in to extortion. (I'm figure that's what she decided because she's made of resolution.)

Thanks for the hug. I'm sending one back to you.