BY Angelo Fernando

My wife sent me a warning message recently, saying not to open a video titled ‘Dancing with Hillary.’ “It is a virus that formats your mobile,” said her WhatsApp text. Now, I usually don’t receive WhatsApp messages from her since we have other means of communicating (telepathy, for instance) so I figured this was serious marital advice.

It made me wonder who comes up with such spurious messages. In this case, perhaps it was a team of undercover dance instructors working for Melania Trump? (the website that debunks hoaxes) had no comment. But it reported a similar virus warning about a ‘Dance of the Pope’ video that was a hoax – or a way to infect your device.

But hacking is nothing to shake a stick at. Being safe involves learning a completely new vocabulary: phishing operations, malware, click-bait, spoofing, trojans, boot viruses, keyloggers, logic bombs and worms.

For those of you who haven’t the foggiest, here’s a layperson’s glossary. If you’re reading this at night, I suggest you turn the page because it’s not exactly a sleep aid.

WHAT IS PHISHING? To ‘phish’ is to hook someone in through an email or text that looks harmless. It comes from someone you think you might know or ought to trust (say the IT manager of your bank) and contains a link or an attachment. Click on it and you’re taken to that place about which your mother always warned you.

No, really; it does worse!

It installs some sneaky software on your computer or mobile phone that proceeds to steal valuable information such as your bank account number or embarrassing pictures of you when your sarong malfunctioned.

Microsoft warns that phishing folk use something called ‘social engineering’ to make you take the bait. And by this they mean a psychological confidence trick. A hacker may ‘blag’ you into believing a fictitious scenario so you divulge confidential information.

And what does it mean to ‘blag?’

Let’s just say it’s not something nice.

VOICE PHISHING So you receive a call and it’s an automated recording that’s pretending to be a computer-generated alert to credit card fraud. The message is often a synthesised text-to-speech voice (think Arnold Schwarzenegger with a bad sinus infection) and instructs you to call a specific phone number.

The phishers even manage to trick your caller ID to display the name of the finance company in the recorded message. You place the call
and the system asks you to input a few details for verification – yes, like trusted companies do. That is what the voice phishers want and after that, you’re dead meat. Or rather, canned tuna. Phishing. Tuna. Get it?

TROJAN HORSE This virus got its name from the wooden horse gifted by the Greeks to the gullible Trojans. The elite group of soldiers hiding inside it sacked Troy and the rest (including poor Helen) was history.

In computer parlance, a trojan is a malicious virus that infects your computer, blocks your anti-virus software and spies on your activities. Worse still, it could take over your computer and use it to perform automated attacks on other computers like (say) Kim Jong-un’s Xbox.

One such trojan known as ‘Da Vinci’ has been used by governments to monitor and decipher the traffic of internet users. It’s said that a trojan could even activate the microphone and camera of your device!

RANSOMWARE This is a malicious virus category that hackers have begun sneaking into a computer network to lock it down. It then demands a ransom to unlock it.

The most recent ransomware goes by the name ‘WannaCry,’ which has emerged in some 150 countries. Cybersecurity teams are demanding the hackers choose a more intimidating name. It doesn’t look good on their resumes to say they went after the namby-pamby WannaCry cartel, having dealt with the likes of Stuxnet, Zeus and Code Red.

In 2014, hackers using ransomware hijacked the computers of Sony Pictures and released embarrassing emails from Sony’s management. This noxious combination of data leaks and ransomware is now known by another weird word – doxware. The practice of ‘doxxing’ refers to digging up and broadcasting sensitive information.

Is your head spinning…?

I’m not making this up…

Within minutes of clicking on a ‘reputable’ article, my computer froze. A pop-up message then announced in Microsoft-speak that my computer had detected a bad virus, and I should not shut it down. Instead, I was asked to call a toll-free number. I gave it my best ‘blagging’ voice and told it to go jump into a lake, pressed extra hard on the power button and waited till it sprang back to life.

It’s what we writers do for a living – tempt fate by making fun of doxxers, phishers and logic bombers while avoiding dancing with Hillary.