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CURMUDGEONRY
Computer Intruder
You call him a hacker, I call him a burglar.

by Barnabas
October 6, 2004

I don’t need an epigraph for this essay. You could probably provide one from personal experience.

On Friday our computer had an unwelcome visitor. It sneaked in uninvited under the cover of an offer of free literature. It brought friends (or accomplices) with it and took control of my computer away from me. I lost data and time. By the middle of the third day, I was pricing a replacement computer. Then the local technician became available, entered the computer with his mystic skills, and exorcised the stubborn demon within – for a very modest fee at that.

Some of you are saying I got off easy. These destructive programs have been around the Internet for years, and if this is the first time I have been hit hard I should consider myself blessed. It cost me just a little money and some inconvenience for my family. I should stop whining and grow up. It could have been worse.  

That is one of the more stupid proverbs in the English language. If some young drunks come and party in my house while I’m gone, would you comfort me by pointing out that all they did was throw up on the carpet when they might have kicked out the television screen? It could have been worse.

I'm angry because I am grown up, and know something about what should be tolerated and what should not.  When that hacker got into my computer, he invaded my private space for his own purposes, not mine, and at my expense. Whether it was anonymous mischief for its own sake, or done for profit, he was in the wrong to cause me any expense at all. In no way could it have been an accident. Evil is in the behavior, not the consequences; the evildoer has no control over the consequences, but he is responsible for them whether they are light or heavy.

In our case, I don’t believe this was simply a prank. Shortly after we discovered the problem, the screen began to fill with ads; the intruder had opened the door wide. Several of these ads offered to sell me a program to get rid of ads! The coincidence was too much for me. It was as though I was supposed to say,  "Oh look, I just got this problem on my computer and right away here is the solution, for just twenty-nine ninety-five! Isn’t that timely!" That’s not what I said.

If it happened to me, it’s happening to thousands routinely. Ethically, it’s burglary. Why should we put up with that? If there is no law against it, there ought to be, and the punishments draconian enough to be a deterrent when anyone gets caught.

The search engines and local internet providers share the responsibility for protecting their customers. If they claim not to know how, that's roughly  equivalent to building an apartment house without fire escapes.

Come to think of it, my provider is a Cooperative, and I’m a member.



About the Author:
Barnabas promises not to be angry when he knows he is the only victim.


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