Cliff's Terrorism Diaries  

Friday, January 4, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 115

Attack Of The Computer Terrorism Virus--A Lesson In Vigilance
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

            Terrorism attacks unexpectedly, in a variety of disguises.  I engaged hand-to-hand combat with Computer Terrorism yesterday when my Norton computer anti-virus program wrapped its viscous tentacles around my computer’s throat and started to strangle it to death.
            My business--my life--is writing and publishing Anti-Terrorism stories on the web.   Like any publisher, when your ability to “print” the news of the day is held hostage, you tremble and shudder for fear your mission in life has been emasculated.  I felt like a pack of  Terrorists had marched into my office and stuck guns at the heads of my children, making me watch as they choked the life from them before my eyes.

            The day started out perfectly.  I wrote and published the Daily Terrorism Dairy.  But then, out of the blue, calm sky of the morning—a Terrorist jet slammed into my computer’s Twin Towers.   The computer froze as I was exiting a program, and when I tried to restart it, all I received was a message threatening disaster.  It read:

“Error:  NAV Auto-Protect is unable to start!”  
          I sat in a dazed, bewildered state, staring blankly at the screen as one might a ransom note scrawled in childish handwriting.  My eyes focused on the exclamation point behind the word “start!”  I had a sinking feeling this was it—the ultimate disaster—I was going to lose my hard drive and all the information on it.   It would be a true disaster—a senseless loss of vital information and treasured files I had created over the years.   I saw it all going up in smoke, as I had felt when I was at Ground Zero on September 11th when the Twin Towers collapsed before my eyes, and the fear of death swirled around me.

My computer is my child—a loved one.  Inside it sleeps the progeny of my thoughts, brought to life in stories and articles and commentaries from the deepest marrow of my being.   Each file is its own individual, unique from the others, but genetically linked as brothers and sisters to the same DNA strain.   I try to breathe life into my words, to give them stand-alone character.   To lose them would parallel the loss of any loved and cherished child of the mind.
           The feeling of loss was exacerbated by my lack of vigilance.   I felt like the father who neglects the safety of his children and they are injured as a result.   I had not backed up my data.   My “children of thought,” my “creations of the mind,” were naked, alone, frightened and trapped inside the computer lock out.   I was sure I could hear them crying to me—“Daddy, help us!  Help us!”
            Worse than my own loss, was the trust my wife had placed in me to guard her words, her thoughts, her stories, her photos.   She authors the Sarah Wisdom stories—precious stories about her conversations and experiences with our grandchildren, Sarah,3, and Matt, 5.   She is the Grandmother of Vigilance, sharing with children ways to deal with various forms of Terrorism that challenge a child’s vulnerability.   By not backing up the information, I exposed her treasured thoughts to unnecessary destruction.  “It will be okay,” she reassured me as she paced around the living room, trying not to add to my own frustration.  “It will be okay.”
           I thought about how I pound and hammer others to become Parents of Vigilance, Grandparents of Vigilance, Citizens of Vigilance.   I thought about how I promote their need to vow to protect their children from Terrorism both from without and within.   And, how I shout out the need for courage, conviction and action to thwart fear, intimidation and complacency.    Now, I was at the end of my own whipping stick.
           I had become complacent about backing up my data and my wife’s.  I assumed I was invincible, and let myself believe Computer Terrorism couldn’t attack me—or, by the time it did, I would be prepared.   My complacency cost me dearly.   I sat in front of the frozen screen, desperately trying to fix the problem, trying to save my trapped “children of the mind” inside its frame from a brutal death of being erased forever from the face of the earth.   Fear and intimidation swooped over me.   I trembled.  My hands began to sweat.  My mouth went dry as the hours passed, and the lock-down continued despite all efforts to break through and start up the computer and save the files.  I could hear my wife’s stories and articles and photos wailing: “Mommy?….Mommy?….Mommy?”
            I began to think I was a hypocrite for shouting “Semper Vigilantes”—Always Vigilant—to others, yet being neglectful myself.   I left the borders to my own computer home unguarded.   I became a Parent of Complacency, not one of Vigilance.  I abandoned the security of my “computer children” and my wife’s.   How easy it would have been to back up the data, I thought.   How easy?
              Each day, had I been vigilant, I could have simply pressed a key to save the vital information, but I hadn’t.  I didn’t even have a back-up program installed.   My house was unguarded.   There were no Sentinels of Vigilance looking out for me—or so I thought.  I had a moment where I felt like crying—a big, 265 pound former Vietnam Vet with over a hundred combat missions—reduced to quivering Jell-o, ashamed at his own neglect.    
            “Error:  NAV Auto-Protect is unable to start!” –was like a bomb inside my computer, ticking, waiting to explode and erase from history all that I had written.  It was the “evil one incarnate” about to eviscerate a vital part of my life.    The Terror was real.  I felt an empty hole in my soul.   My heart raced.   All I could see was the loss of thousands of loved ones—my stories—my thoughts—my research—my pictures.
            I tried a number of things to restore the computer.  Each one failed. I began to feel like the fireman and police and emergency workers rushing into the burning Twin Towers, knowing it was about to collapse, and feeling helpless.  Inside my computer was the mission of my life—my loved ones—crying to get out.  Flashes of files and background information and pictures danced before my mind as I grew more and more impatient and fearful I would never rescue them.

            I fought the battle alone for five straight hours.   I engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Error Message.   I was worn, beaten.   I was sure I would lose it all—the data—the work.   I took a breath and got a cup of coffee.  I wanted to stop and think without panic.  What could I do?
            Finally, a light bulb went on.  After I had e-mailed a number of my computer friends in desperation, I realized that Microsoft might help.   I searched wildly for their number, called, and finally got hold a technical support person—a woman named Cathy from Utah.
            For the next three hours on the phone, we worked through the bowels of my computer.  I followed her instructions, deleting hundreds and hundreds of Norton files in my registry.   It seemed there was no end to them.
            “Some customers say Norton Anti-Virus is like a virus itself—it just keeps growing,” she said as I repeatedly punched the sequence “F-3”--“Delete”--“Enter” eradicating every Norton file  that had squirmed and wiggled its way into almost every file in my computer’s registry.  The computer’s registry, I understand, is the key to its operation.   If something is foul with it, the entire system is in jeopardy.
            To get to the files within, I was deep inside the cerebral cortex of my computer—deeper than I had ever been.   As I worked farther into the files to delete everything related to Norton, I thought of  Osama bin Laden’s Terrorist cells. The Norton anti-virus seemed to find its way into every nook and cranny of my computer’s brain.   Thousands of files were opened in search of the last Norton file.   My ear ached where I held the phone. My fingers were numbed from punching the delete button.
            I kept thinking how finding Terrorists was like extracting an anti-virus from the guts of a terrorized computer.   It seemed every possible hiding place held some fragment of the Norton program.  I felt like I was squishing ants—no sooner did I delete one file, than another popped up, and another, and another.
            “We’ve got to clean it all out,” Cathy said in her calm, relaxed manner.  “Be patient,” she urged.

            I was tired and frustrated, but there was a ray of hope.   She was the confident one.  I was shell-shocked; simply following orders.   Finally, the last Norton file was found.  But the battle had only begun.  For the next forty-five minutes, I was busy closing up each file I had opened, surgically healing the wounds I created in my “search-and-destroy” mission for the last lingering Norton Terrorist cell.  
            As I mopped up the battle scene, I thought about America’s role in seeking and destroying the Terrorists.  It was one thing to wreak destruction on a land, and another  to rebuild it.  Yet, for the system to work, both sides of the coin had to be addressed—the destruction of the “evil ones” and the “restructuring of the good.”  I wasn’t sure which was the most work—hunting down the anti-virus virus—or repairing the damage so it wouldn’t happen again.  Both seemed equal in effort.
            Finally, I closed the last file in the registry.  I held my breath as we restarted the computer.  Would the screen show success?   Or, would failure appear?  Would we get bin Laden and all his henchmen, or did we miss something and new attacks would occur?
            I was elated when the screen appeared in a normal state.  I thought war was won.  But I forgot about the “mop up” operation.  In Vietnam, after we surged through the enemy lines and claimed victory, we always scoured the battlefield for those “enemies” who tried to slip away, or booby traps they left as little reminders that victory was never complete until the last flame was snuffed.
         Cathy and I began a final sweep—our Computer Terrorism mop-up operation—to see if we had missed anything.   We found foxholes of recalcitrant Norton Terrorists hiding here and there and expunged them one by one until my “find file” registered we enjoyed “final victory.”
            Now, the true test was about to occur.  We restarted the computer and I held my breath.  Would it work?  Had we missed a single Terrorist?  Was there one straggling cancer cell left that would multiply and recreate Computer Hell?
            It worked.  We were victorious.
            I sighed relief and profusely thanked Cathy for her patience.  We had become allies over the past three hours. 
            Vigilance, I thought, is Terrorism’s greatest enemy; Complacency, it’s greatest ally.
            How easy, I pondered, it is to fall into a state of complacency.   And, how quickly and suddenly the Terror occurred.    Just before the “computer attack” I had been happy and carefree.  Now, I was scarred and worn--totally exhausted.
            I had learned some great lessons from the experience.   One, I respected the hunt for bin Laden more than ever.  I realized the effort to find him and his allies in the caves and crevices of an ancient land were not as simple as they seemed.  There were many hiding places for my Computer Anti-virus virus, and I assumed countless ones for bin Laden and his crew.  If it was anything like searching for the last cell of the Norton Terrorist on my computer, I saluted the effort to find him.
            Secondly, I realized I had been negligent.  My vigilance over my computer was lax.  I hadn’t backed up the information.   If I lost it—it was my fault.  Now, I had a choice.  I could go on with my life and pretend it wouldn’t happen again—assume the “I’m Invincible Again” posture, or, I could  become a Parent of Computer Vigilance—and vow to remind myself daily to protect my “children”—my files, my photos, my thoughts and my stories.  I also had another obligation I had forgotten.  And that was to protect my wife’s writings, her stories, her photos.   I not only had to be a Parent of Vigilance, but also assume a Sentinel of Vigilance attitude—that I was responsible for another’s treasured children.
            The last lesson I learned was there were people in this world who could help me keep vigilant—people like Cathy—Sentinels of Computer Vigilance.  If I was smart, I would stay close to them.  I would respect them.  I would listen to their messages.  I would post their phone number on my computer.   I wouldn’t hesitate to call if I needed help so I didn’t spin into circles and perhaps make a bad situation worse.  I related the Cathy’s of the computer world to the tragedy on the Second Tuesday of September.
            September 11th created thousands of Sentinels of Vigilance.  The hundreds of mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters and loved ones who died that day, formed one body to remind us to “never forget Terrorism can strike anytime, anywhere.”
             I had written many articles about them forming one Voice, one vigilant body standing over us, watching—warning us to stay vigilant in our daily lives against terrorism.  Now, I saw the value of that message in a small but crucial part of my life.
            Terrorism had attacked my computer unexpectedly.   I knew it could happen again.  
            Would I be ready for the next attack?

            Yes, I thought.  Yes, I would be if I vowed to “never forget” by becoming a “Sentinel of Computer Vigilance.”

Go To Daily Diary, January 3--Teaching Children Anti-Terrorism Tactics

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