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            I endured a very frightening, and frustrating, experience the other night. A virus took over my computer and threatened to destroy about ten years of work. Worse, I allowed the virus onto my computer due to my own curiosity and stupidity. This post is to warn you not to make the same mistake. Do NOT open any emails from USPS.COM!

            We just moved into a new house in the country. Some contractors, and even UPS, haven’t been able to find the house. So, when I got an email labeled “Undelivered package” from (which I assumed meant United States Postal Service) I believed it was possible a new postal employee hadn’t been able to find the house.       

            Still, I was suspicious. One: I never open emails when I don’t know the sender. Two; I’d heard or read about some similar virus problems using the post office some time back. Three: How the hell did the post office get my email address?

            But my curiosity reigns supreme as in all writers. Who doesn’t like to get an unexpected package? And there was the thing about no one being able to find the house. Sometimes my wife orders things using my email address if she’s going to be out of town. Finally, my son’s birthday was coming up. I wondered if someone had sent him something without telling me. I decided the email was worth investigating.

            I opened the email, still suspicious. I read it carefully, checking for misspellings and other errors. I remembered the news report saying the virus-carrying email was filled with grammatical mistakes. I didn’t find any. The email simply said I had undelivered mail, and that I should open their file and print a label. I was to take to the label to my “nearest” post office to claim my mail. My suspicions grew. The nearest town must have two or three post offices. Which one? I figured the label would give the office address, so I reluctantly clicked the “open file” button. Naturally, as it always does, my computer security asked if I really wanted to open the file. I thought about it, and clicked “yes.”

          Nothing happened.

          A string of self-loathing expletives began to explode in my mind. I’d been had due to my own stupidity. Fearing the worst, I quickly closed the email. Too late, the damage was done. I started getting error messages within seconds. Microsoft kept asking me if I wanted to allow such-and-such program to change its programing. I kept clicking “no,” but it was in a loop and shutting me out of everything.

          Suddenly, as if by some miracle, my savior appeared. A security message, from a security program I’ve never heard of before, popped up, saying, “A virus has been detected on your computer.”

          No shit, Sherlock, I thought angrily.

           I repeated clicked off the message, but it immediately returned. I turned it off. It returned. This went on for several minutes. All this time I’m thinking that I’m really screwed. All my books, publishing data, contacts . . . my working life . . . are on this computer. I quickly disconnected my backup drives, fearing they’d be contaminated as well, but I knew it was probably too late.

            I tried to activate my own security, but I was locked out by the repeated warning from the mysterious security program. Suddenly, a new message appeared. A picture of a computer program box appeared bearing the name of the mysterious security program. Sorry, I was too mad to recall the name. The message said I could buy their program for different lengths of time, with prices ranging for something like $79.99 to $199.99. I’d be saved. All I needed to do was enter my credit-card number.

           Fat chance, Buster. Not exactly the words I used, but close enough for a G-rating. Now it was obvious that this was a scam to rip off the unwary, or just damned scared, out of their credit-card number and hard-earned money.

            I wasn’t having any of it. I shut down my computer.

            Long-time experience with computers has taught me to be prepared for anything. For that reason, I don’t put any personal data on my computer, and I backup all my work on two separate, detachable drives. That way, if my computer self-destructs, the most I’ll lose is a day or two of work. I was still really pissed off. I remembered the news report saying this virus was extremely difficult to eradicate. I could be out the price of a new computer. All this because some malicious butthead (again with the G-rating) was trying to ruin my life for no reason other than being an immature and irresponsible dweeb.

            I put aside my anger for the moment, and started to think of a solution to get my computer back. My old Dell used to crash all the time. That taught me to create an emergency startup disk when I bought a new computer. I put in my emergency disk and restarted my computer, thereby bypassing the virus-infected programs. Then, going into the system files, I went into the “System Restore” program to return the computer to an earlier date’s settings before the virus had abused my systems. Essentially, this would return my computer to the way it was before the virus, without changing my saved work. It seemed to take an eternity for my computer to reset itself, but it worked. I removed the emergency disk during a restart, and my computer had returned to normal. I did a security scan. It came back with no viruses found—for now. In the back of my mind I keep thinking that was way too easy. Was something stolen during the virus? Is there still a Trojan virus in there tracking my information? I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

            But this still pisses the hell out of me. What if this happened to my mother, who doesn’t know anything about computers except how to turn them on? Even my wife, with her Masters in engineering, was clueless about what I did. My son would have taken a hammer to his computer, and then wanted money for a new one. And why? Why does some obviously intelligent person waste their time trying to purposely cause havoc in the life of someone they don’t even know? This is just my personal opinion, mind you, but whoever did this needs to be strung up by their danglers. Sorry, I was never good at turning the other cheek.

            So be warned:

           1.      Don’t open emails from someone you don’t know (not even the U.S. Post Office).

           2.      Don’t put your personal data on your computer. I don’t even use electronic bill pay. Writing a check seems so much easier than identity theft that empties your bank account. Yes, I’m paranoid.

           3.      Make an emergency startup disk to your computer if you don’t have one.

           4.      Get a good computer security system that automatically updates and runs in the background. And DON’T ignore its warnings like me.

           5.      Backup all your vital files frequently. There’re online services that will do auto-backups, but I backup mine on detachable drives that I can put in the safe when I’m out of town.

            6.       Finally, if your work life depends on your computer, learn the essentials to its operation and repair in case of an emergency. In the long run, a little effort now will save you a lot of heartache and effort.