My clever friend Alison told me this story. This happened to her not long ago, and it’s a cautionary tale…
Attention, you have the Zeus virus! Do not shut down this computer! You must contact Magasoft Technical Department immediately for help on 0800………
When the message appeared on my computer screen, accompanied by a voice shouting out the same sentiments, I panicked inside. I froze.
It was one o’clock in the morning. I was already tired out and desperate to finish my work.
My heartbeat kicked up sky high and I burst into tears.
I had barely two hours left before the deadline for emailing the final documents for my postgraduate thesis, and missing this deadline would mean possibly years of work wasted. All my documents, the result of thousands of hours of painstaking research and analysis, was almost ready to send, stored in my computer desktop, yet now the screen was frozen, the thing was making noises, and if I touched any key nothing happened except a horrible beeping sound.
What’s the golden rule, I thought?
Ah yes. Shut it down and restart, then, hopefully that should fix the crash.
But what about that message on my screen? If you shut down this computer, on restarting, the Zeus virus that is inside your hard drive will destroy everything, all your documents will be irrecoverable. And it also said that the virus would also automatically be sent on to everyone in my address book, to infect their computers.
All my documents? All my research work, that I was within minutes of sending off! Years of other work, not to mention my personal photos, my music, the three books I’d started writing, my private documents, all of it! Like a fool, I’d always meant to back up my files, but for ages now I simply hadn’t bothered.
All my hundreds of contacts having their computers infected, their work destroyed too, and all because of me!
What choice did I have?
With trembling fingers, I dialled the number. I was crying with fear and I was, literally, terrified.
“Hello, how can I help you?” said the Asian-accented male voice.
“I’m p-panicking,” my voice was shaking as I spoke, trying to control my tears. “Thank goodness I’ve reached you this late at night. My computer’s frozen. It says I have the Zeus virus. There’s a message on the screen that says you can help me.”
“Of course, do not worry, we will help you. But I warn you, madam, this is very very serious indeed. The Zeus virus is something new and positively catastrophic. Your entire network will be completely destroyed unless we act quickly.”
“Okay, okay, thank you so much. What should I do?”
“Well, madam, you are indeed very lucky to have contacted me. What you must do now is allow me to control your computer remotely. That way I can repair your computer from here.”
“Oh, thank you.” My voice was shaking and desperate, I was trying to stop myself crying. And on top of all this, the clock was ticking. Would I get my computer fixed and still have time to send the files for my thesis?
Would my work even exist in five minutes’ time?
I was already late for my deadline, and Professor Dragfire was doing me a big favour waiting for my material. He’d delayed his trip to Paris in order to help me, and if I couldn’t deliver my papers, that was it. If my hard drive went down…
Oh God, it didn’t bear thinking about!
“Now, madam, will you press the key with the four squares on it?”
“And at the same time, press the R key.”
“Yes, good, that is fine. Now type in these letters.” He recited them. “And then press return.”
I did so.
“There’s a little screen appeared.”
“Good,” he went on calmly. “Now highlight the key that says you allow me to take remote control and press return.”
“Thank you, madam. You have now allowed me access to your computer, so we can take over from here.”
“This is so kind of you to help me. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Madam, this is what we at the Megasoft Technical Department are here for. But I am sorry to say that before we start there has to be a small charge.”
“Well, a one-off fix would be $200, but I would recommend an insurance cover for two years. That will be only $499. And for that we are available at any time to help you. Because I warn you, madam, that once the Zeus comes it may come gain. It is a most bad bad naughty virus indeed. By the way, my name is Kevin Wilson.”
The name Kevin Wilson appeared on my screen, alongside the figures for his terms.
“Erm, okay, if you say so. But how can I trust you with my credit card details?”
“I understand, madam. But it is all secure and safe.”
“Well, err, I don’t know…”
He launched into a long spiel.
That’s when I took the small device on my desk and clipped it onto the mouthpiece of my phone. The little light on the back of it was blinking red. I pressed the button and the light turned green. It stayed green for about ten seconds, then reverted back to red.
In my ear I heard Kevin’s sudden agonising screams of agony.
I had already tested the device (illegally, I’m ashamed to say). I had used it on a prisoner in America awaiting his fate on death row, an unrepentant mass murderer. The ultra-high level pulses of sound waves transmitted through the phone and into his ear had caused his eardrum to shatter, and the incredibly fast pulses had penetrated his brain, stimulating the pain centre, instantly causing a reaction that created such agony in the whole of his body, that he stated screaming and literally could not stop.
In fact an observer had said it was as if ‘his brain had literally been set on fire’. He had screamed non-stop for the two days it took him to die.
The screaming was still going on in my ear. Next, banking on the fact that my computer was still connected to his, I plugged the memory stick into the USB socket on my computer and pressed several keys in the sequence I had memorised. I’d tested this piece of software a month ago, when I had made contact with an internet site that published films about extreme violence and child pornography. My device had caused all their computers to not only destroy their hard drives, but for the internal parts to overheat to such a degree that within seconds they spontaneously combusted. The sudden uncontrollable inferno at the firm’s offices had meant that many of the employees had died.
“Please, you are English? I talk English to you?” came a voice in my ear. “Help me, please! All our other phones have gone down, you are my only lifeline! There is a catastrophe here in Mumbai, a fire, a man is seriously injured, we need help…”
I smiled to myself and pressed the button on my gadget again. This second man’s screaming began even sooner than the first man’s had started.
I shut down my computer, let it rest for five minutes before starting it up again, using my malware removal tool to make it safe.
Yes. Why had I become so keyed up and tearful? This final test had indeed worked better than I could possibly have hoped.
Why had I got myself so upset, imagining myself into the scenario that, indeed, must have happened to so many innocent people over the years? I suppose trying to experience what so many poor people must have suffered was a way of forcing myself to go ahead with my rather drastic idea.
All my work was now complete and after this final test I could send my work to Professor Dragfire. My thesis on ‘Computer fraud and how to combat it’ would certainly have some original ideas in it, I could be pretty sure of that.