Friday, 8 November 2013

I've been hacked... but learned something.

 Duh, who hasn’t been hacked? I can hear the chorus already. Well, I hadn’t, not until now. And it was an unsettling experience to rival being told by Penny Johnson that my breath smelled of onions (I was 6 at the time - what did I know?)

Anyway, the first I knew about it was a phone call from a friend asking me if I was really stuck in the Ukraine. I opened my email and was surprised to see that ‘I’ had indeed told people at some length and colour that I was stranded sans passport or money in some God-forsaken hotel being held at gunpoint by the manager. (OK, a slight exaggeration, but it’s hardly a friendly part of the world, is it?) But it was couched as a tug at the heart-strings, guaranteed to have my closest and mostest dropping their Marmite soldiers and rushing to their banks to help ‘me’ get back home to the bosoms of my family. Not.

(Actually, as a marketing exercise, I was almost impressed. The hacker had been kind enough to include at the bottom of the email details of my latest books, which I thought was showing a touching sense of initiative on my behalf: ‘Help, I’m up to my b******* in the back-of-beyond – but hey – wanna buy my latest book?!’)

There followed a steady stream of friends, family and acquaintances, phoning, tweeting, emailing and Facebooking, all asking for the latest sitrep. Some offered advice, others told me how broke they were (sorry, pal, you’re on your own). Most expressed how they knew it wasn’t really me because the hacker had used a small ‘i’ as a personal pronoun and a capital ‘P’ following a comma, something I would never do. Aw. I was quite touched by that one.

Looking on the down side, though, never before have I had so many people so eager to imply that I was unclean. Bubonic plague? A mere rash. Leprosy? Pretty much cured now, innit? Being hacked? YUKKK!

Some of the advice I received was brilliant and technical – so thank you everyone for that. Some was verging on the illegal, but scary, too, especially since I knew the people offering it. (The lady suggesting garden shears and a blender? You need to speak to a health professional, dear; the relish in your voice was just a bit too blood-sucky for that early in the morning).

To be fair, my wife was just as outraged. She was all for buying a ticket to the Ukraine and hunting down the hacker like a rabid dog (her words, not mine) and pinning them by their dangly bits to the nearest pine tree for the buzzards to feed on. (And I’m the crime writer in the family??) But good sense – and the cost of Christmas coming up – prevailed, and we settled down to a hefty and prolonged bout of swearing instead, which was cathartic but rough on the cats, who went outside until we’d finished.

I did start to assemble a clay effigy labelled ‘Hacking Bastard’, into which I was going to insert 6-inch nails, but its head kept falling off so I figured maybe I’d better stop. I didn’t want the Ukrainian cops finding headless corpses scattered all over the country with their lifeless fingers frozen to their keyboards.

So what did I learn from this experience? Well, to start with, change my bloody password. Second, I was touched by the number of caring messages I received, even those tinged with blood-letting.

On a practical level, however, came a call from my daughter, ringing me at 10.30 at night to see if I was actually at home. (I spent years travelling all over Europe on business, and she harbours vivid images of me living a far more colourful and dashing life than I actually did).

Her call, while welcome, was useful in one important aspect: she raised the question of what ‘safe’ word would we use if ever I really was in peril, and wanted to show that I was being pressured into speaking. (A topic mentioned in my current project, spookily enough). The idea would be that if we agreed the words limbo dancer, for example, as a ‘safe’ signal, I could feed it into the email or conversation to show I was speaking under duress. (On reflection, not so good for the Ukraine, but a belter if I was in the Caribbean being held by Yardie drug lords).

The problem was, I’d always thought my idea of a safe signal would be to litter any communication with typos and bad English, which would show everyone I was acting under duress. Based on that idea, the email ALL my friends received (and dismissed as a scam), proves that I’m not at home after all, but I’m stuck in the Ukraine sans passport or money, being held at gunpoint…

And not one bugger’s going to do a thing about it.
Have a great weekend.



  1. Yeah, I noticed your books were listed on the scam email! Not a marketing strategy to use more than once, though, or your secret will be out... ;-)

  2. Damn. And here was me thinking... :))