Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Oh no! My router’s been hacked!

Or so says a Spark (my telco and Internet provider) technician who phoned me a short while ago. I’ve had several phone calls a day over the last week from a variety of South Island phone numbers, but invariably, either the caller hung up as I answered, or did within a few seconds. Today one of those callers made a successful connection. The call went like this:

Tech: hello sir. I am [name unrecognisable] from Spark technical support.
Me: Hello. What can I do for you?
Tech: We are calling you because there is a problem with your router. Do you understand?
Me: I understand what you are saying. Why do you think it has a problem?
Tech: I’ll show you. Look at the lights on your router. Are any of them blinking?
Me: Just a minute while I go look. It’s in the next room. Hang on a mo. [pause of around 30 seconds] Yes, several lights are flashing.
Tech: Can you tell me which ones are blinking?
Me: Hang on a bit will you, I didn’t note down which ones. I’ll just grab a a pen and paper and be back in a jiffy. [Quietly] Now where’s a pen that works? [short pause, then louder] Got them, Back in a second. [40 seconds of silence] Are you there? The lights that are flashing are Internet, W L A N, L A N 2, L A N 3 and L A N 4.
Tech: OK sir. Do you know what the WLAN light is for?
Me: Please, tell me.
Tech: WLAN stands for “Wireless Local Area Network”. Someone is using your wireless connection without your permission. That blinking light is an alarm saying that the wireless network has been hacked.
Me: Oh dear. How do I fix that?
Tech: That’s why we’ve called sir. I’ll just transfer you over to one of our router specialists who will lead you through some simple steps to solve the problem. Just wait a minute while I transfer you.
[30 second pause]
Tech2: Hello sir, I’m Gerald [or perhaps Gerard?] from the Spark specialist support team. Do you understand why we have called you?
Me: I think it’s because someone is using my wireless router without my permission.
Tech2: That’s right. But I’m here to help you fix that. Someone has hacked the router so that they can do all sorts of things without you knowing about it, and that flashing light is a warning. You should have reported it you know. It will only take a moment to fix if you follow my instructions. Can we go ahead and do that now?
Me: Sure.
Tech2: As you may understand, a router is digital appliance, and as it doesn’t have its own screen or keyboard, we need to communicate with it by using another device such as a computer or laptop. Do you have one of those?
Me: Yes I have a computer.
Tech2: Good Turn it on please.
Me: Just a minute. [Another 30 second pause] Ok it’s on.
Tech2: That’s great. Is it a Mac of a Windows computer?
Me: How do I tell?
Tech2: There should be a brand name or logo on the computer. Can you tell me what it is sir?
Me: It says “Dell”.
Tech2: It’s probably a Windows Computer, but just to be sure, do you see a button with “CTRL” nearest yo you on the extreme left of the keyboard?
Me: Yes.
Tech2: Does the button to the right of it have a Microsoft Windows logo on it?
Me: What does the logo look like?
Tech2: It looks like a wind with four panes of glass.
Me: Yeah. It does look a bit like a window.
Tech2: That confirms it’s a Windows computer. So this is what I want you to do: Hold down that Windows button and hit “R”.
Me: Done that.
Tech2: Did a window pop up?
Me: Yes.
Tech2: OK. Now type in C for Charlie, M for mother, D for Doctor.
[pause while I type s.l.o.w.l.y.]
Me: Done that.
Tech2: now hit Enter and tell me what you see.
Me: Exactly the same as what was there before I pressed Enter.
Tech2: Can you tell me what you had typed?
Me: C for Charlie, M for Mike, D for Delta.
Tech2 [with some hesitation]: Um… That’s right. [pause] And you say nothing happened when you hit enter?
Me: Well, I didn’t exactly hit it, but I did press it firmly.
Tech2: I see. It looks like the hackers have done more than hack you router. We’re going to have to get into this more deeply. But don’t worry, we’ll put an end to those hackers, although we will have to do a bit more at our end first.
Me: I see. What do I do now?
Tech2: We’ll make some preparations, then would it be OK to call you back between 9 and 9:30 tomorrow morning?
Me: Sure, I’ll make sure I’m here.
Tech2: That’s great. I’ll call you back between 9 and 9:30. Goodbye, sir.
Me: Goodbye.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow. What they don’t know:

  • For 35 years, I was an engineer for a major international I.T. Company, and for most of that time specialised in networked systems in the banking and retail sector.
  • Our home network consists of Linux and Android devices only (plus a Kindle). There isn’t a Windows device in sight, and hasn’t been for more than 10 years.
  • I know they are scammers.

If I’m in the mood, I like to string these pricks along for as long as possible. The last few times, I haven’t been, so I’ve asked them to quote my Spark account number, and of course they were unable to do that. I invite them to call me back when they have it, but for obvious reasons they never do.

In (Not) Windows Support Desk I relayed a similar incident, although this time I look forward to my role play as a less than savvy senior Internet user. After all, they are role playing at being support personnel, so it seems only fit and proper that I play an appropriate role for them. I am impressed with their apparent courtesy. Being addressed as “Sir” all the time, might be flattering to some people, but I know it’s simply because they have no idea what my name is. I wonder what term they’ll use when they eventually discover I’m playing with them.

I’m not confident that they will call back tomorrow morning, but I really hope they do. The longer I keep them tied up, the less opportunity that have of doing real harm to someone else. It’ll be my good deed for the day.

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(Not) Windows Support Desk

[Ring ring. Ring ring]
ME: G’day. This is Barry
CALLER: Hello this is Windows support. I’m calling regarding a problem with your computer.
ME: Oh? what kind of problem?
CALLER: Do you realise that your computer is generating a lot of Internet traffic that is related to viruses and malware?
ME: No. Is that bad?
CALLER: Very bad. You can get into a lot of trouble if you let it continue.
ME: Bugger! So what should I do?
CALLER: That is why I am calling sir. So we can repair your computer and make it safe. Just follow what I tell you to do. Do you understand?
ME: yes
CALLER: OK. Please turn your computer on.
ME: It’s already on
CALLER: Ok. Hold down the Windows key, press the “R” key and release the Windows key.
ME: What’s the Windows key?
CALLER: Do you see the key at the front left of the keyboard? It should have the letters CTRL in it.
ME: Yes
CALLER: Well the to its right should be the Windows key.
ME: Oh you mean the one with a kind of wriggly 4-paned window one it?
CALLER: That’s the one. Hold it down and then press the “R” key then release both keys. Got That?
ME: Yes. [pause] Done it.
CALLER: Ok. Now type in E V E N [unrecognisable] [unrecognisable] W R
ME: Sorry my hearing’s not the best. Can you spell it out again please?
CALLER: E for echo, V for victory, E for echo, N for November, T for tango, V for victory, W for whisky, R for Romeo.
ME: [pause] Ok. Now what?
CALLER: Click Ok.
ME: I don’t see an Ok button. Should I just press Enter
CALLER: What? Ah, yes, just press Enter. Then tell me what you see.
ME: Nothing
CALLER: Huh? What do you mean nothing? Can you describe exactly what you see on your screen.
ME: well, I mean Nothing happened. The box that I typed E V E N T V W R into is still sitting in the middle of the screen.
CALLER: Do you have any other programs running?
ME: Yes, I have my email program, a web browser, a word processor,and a [Caller interupts]
CALLER: [cross tone] You must close all programs completely. Do you understand? I want just the desktop like when you first start your computer. Am I clear?
ME: No need to be so short. If you wanted a clean screen you should have said so at the beginning. Now, when you say “Like when you first start your computer”, do you mean before I log in or afterwards?
CALLER: [sounding flustered] Before. No, I mean Afterwards.
ME: [sounding doubtful] Ok. Hang on a mo.
[long pause]
CALLER: Hello? Hello, are you there sir?
ME: Yes. I was just closing down everything. I’m ready now.
CALLER: [speaking slowly and deliberately] Ok. Hold down the Windows key, and while holding it down, press the “R” key. Then release the “R” key and then the Windows key.
ME: [short pause] Ok, Done.
CALLER: Has a box appeared?
ME: Yes
CALLER: Type E V E N T V W R into the box and then read out what you have entered.
[slow typing can be heard]
ME: Done. I’ve typed in E for echo, V for victory, E for echo, N for November, T for tango, V for victory, W for whisky, R for Romeo
CALLER: Very good! Now click the Ok button.
ME: Like I said before, there’s no Ok button.
CALLER: [pause] What buttons to you see?
ME: There are 3 buttons: “Preferences”, “Close”, and one that is greyed out with the label “Launch”.
CALLER: Does the box have a title at the top?
ME: Yes.
[silence]
CALLER: Well?
ME: Well what?
CALLER: [exasperated] What it the title?
ME: Oh sorry. “Application Finder”
CALLER: And you got there when you pressed the Windows key and the R Key – are you Sure?
ME: If you mean the R key between the E key and the T key and below the 4 key and the 5 key and above the D key and the F key, then, yes, I am sure. If there’s another R key somewhere else, you’ll need to direct me to it.

The above conversation is the beginning of a 31 minute 17 second session I had with a guy that was trying to “help” me fix a “serious problem” on my computer. After several more unsuccessful attempts to run Event Viewer, he tried another approach:

CALLER: I want you to click on the Start Button.
ME: Where do I find the Start Button?
CALLER: At the bottom left hand corner of the screen
ME: There’s no button there
CALLER: [sounds like he’s talking with clenched teeth] There is a bar that runs along the bottom of the screen. On the left side there is a button that says “Start” or it has the Windows logo on it. I want you to click on it.
ME: Look mate, I’m telling you there’s no bar along the bottom of the screen and there’s no button with Start or the logo on it. I’d tell you if there was. Are you sure you’re qualified to be doing this?
CALLER: You little sh*t! Do you know how much trouble you can get into by messing around with Windows Security Office? You don’t want to f*ck with us.

Usually these types of calls end abruptly when I question the qualification of the caller, but this was a new approach. He clearly thought I was a young person trying to be smart. He then went on to explain how I could be banned from the Internet for life for knowingly distributing malware; that my telephone would be monitored, and as distributing viruses and ransomware was regarded as terrorism by the authorities, I’d be put on the terror watch list and the No Fly list, and so would my parents. He then threatened to set the wheels in motion unless I cooperated fully, and asked me again to click the Start button.

I gently explained that I was in fact 69 years old, and as I have autism I often take instructions too literally, and rather than assuming my screen looked exactly like his, he should ask questions that would lead him to understand how my computer is different. I then gave the example of Instead of being rude when I said I didn’t have a Start button, he could have enquired what I do to start up a program.

This seemed to calm him down and we spent another 20 minutes or so as he fruitlessly tried to lead me through installing a remote desktop, a key logger and backdoor, and finally an attempt to install TeamViewer. If only he had bothered to ascertain what operating system was installed on my computer, he would have had a much easier time. My home has been Microsoft Windows free for almost 15 years. Our 2 desktops, a laptop and our media and backup server all run variants of Linux.

Eventually it dawned on him that I might be leading him on and he directly asked if I was wasting his time. So I told the first porky of the evening. I mentioned that New Zealand was a member of the Five Eyes Spy network and I had been using delaying tactics so that his precise location could be identified. It was just a matter of deciding whether to use the local law enforcement agency to arrest him, or the Internet Rendition Unit to whisk him to a jurisdiction where Internet crime is better dealt with. The decision would be made within 24 hours. At that point he hung up. I have no idea if he believed any of the lie, but I hope he sweats for a few hours at least.

I don’t like lying and on the rare occasions I do, I always feel physically uncomfortable afterwards. But on this occasion I actually feel good.