Information Highway Robbery

20Mar09

It’s hard to say which made me feel more violated – having my car stolen or having my computer hijacked by an insidious virus.

The car-theft happened over two decades ago, and time has a way of softening the edges and making offenses seem less egregious. (Just look at how many Americans seem to have forgotten the outrage we all felt on September 11, 2001.)

It was a Sunday afternoon in 1985, and my friend Lisa J. and I had driven into Boston to attend a WBCN-sponsored road race being held in the Fenway area. Lisa J. had once worked as a writer for DJ Charles Laquidara and she knew the ‘BCN crowd.
impala
I parked my white, 1972 Chevy Impala 400 Sedan on a side street off Lansdowne St., and we walked a few blocks to the event. The walk was a good warm-up for me as I had decided to enter a 3K side “race” for walkers. My prize for finishing 10th in the race walk event was a crappy U2 vinyl album. I never played it. I still don’t get the appeal of U2.

After my triumph in the walking event, we stopped briefly to watch the real athletes run across the finish line, while Lisa J. caught up with some of her old ‘BCN buddies. Then we headed over to a club on Lansdowne St. for a post-race party.

The party was lame, so we walked out after a short time and headed back to the car. We were less than a block from it when we watched my car pull out of the parking space and drive off with the silhouetted heads of two individuals visible. We instinctively ran after the car, but it quickly disappeared into the city.

We found the nearest police station and reported the theft to cops who could not have been less interested. I had the long ride back to Wakefield via public transportation to contemplate which bothered me more: the theft or the fact that the thieves had scored a bonus in the case of Bud behind the driver’s seat.

My ‘72 Impala was one of those great big old American cars that are so un-PC today. It got 12 miles per gallon if I kept it tuned up, which I didn’t. It also burned oil. My Impala emitted more carbon than Al Gore’s private jet, mansion and houseboat combined.

Nearly a week went by before the phone call came that the car had been located. I could pick it up (for a fee) at a lot in Cambridge. The only damage was a popped ignition, and I started it with a screwdriver until I got around to fixing it. It also had several parking tickets on the windshield. Apparently the Boston Police had no trouble finding the car to ticket it for being parked illegally in Roxbury, but couldn’t figure out that it had been reported stolen.
Cluttered workspace
The hijacking of my PC happened just a few weeks ago. I own a 5 year-old Dell, and I gather from recent comments that using a PC that’s “that old” is roughly equivalent to driving a ‘72 Impala.

It was a Saturday, and I had three stories to write that weekend. I was taking a break and browsing randomly online when a legitimate-looking window popped up telling me that my PC was infected. “Sure it is,” I thought, and tried to close the window. But it wouldn’t close. It wanted me to download “XP Police Anti-spyware” to fix my “problem.”

As I later learned, no matter what action I took or what I clicked, it was going to infect my computer. Before I knew it, I was watching multiple, continuous unwanted pop-up ads, each with video and soundtrack. It also sapped my computer’s resources, making it all but impossible to do anything on or off-line.

My PC was useless and I had a pile of work to do. I could not even get online to figure out what I was dealing with or download a fix. I drove to Staples and paid $30 for Webroot SpySweeper. I installed it on my computer, which took forever because the rogue programs were using up all of my system’s resources. Finally, it installed and I did a sweep. It detected and quarantined the “virtumonde” adware virus, deemed “high risk.”

This bought me enough time to get online and find out that I was going to need professional help to eliminate this insidious pest. No matter how many times I isolated and quarantined virtumonde, it always came back.

I called “Geek Squad” and they sent a “double agent” out to my house. He ran a special program that extracted all traces of the adware from my PC. I was happy to learn that I wasn’t alone. He told me that roughly half of their calls these days relate to the virtumonde adware.

I still haven’t figured out whether I felt more violated by having my car stolen or my computer hijacked by a virus.

I do know this much: getting my car back was cheaper.

[This column originally appeared in the March 19, 2009 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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