I do not like things hanging from my belt. I know people who walk around with so many things on their belt that they look like a big city policeman. After a phone debacle a while back, I now carry three things in my pockets. First is my phone, incased in a device that does double duty as a wallet, and is secured to my belt by a tether. Second, a multi-tool that clips to my pocket. Lastly, a tiny flashlight. As I get older I find this is a wonderful device. Thus armed, I head out into the world.
It was Monday and I had just returned from a late breakfast at the local hash house followed by a stop at my favorite marine hardware store. The project for the day was to change out lacing on the sundeck canvas aboard Patty O’, our 1954 Huckins sedan cruiser that’s also our home. Walking down the dock to the boat I heard the ‘ping’ that alerts me that someone has sent me a text message on my phone.. There are only three people who do that on occasion. The Blonde, my wife, my friend Ritchie and Ray the yard manager. Stepping aboard Patty O’ and sitting in one of the cockpit chairs, the display showed that it was indeed from the Blonde; the message a terse, “Call me.” The last time I got a message like that I had been taken to task for not having the phone on my person to respond to a family emergency. Looking back, it was obvious that I hadn’t missed a call. Pushing the call button the phone was answered by the Blonde, speaking her name.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’ve got to take this.” I heard her say. “Excuse me.”
It took a minute for her to come back on. “Thanks for getting back so soon,” she said.
“What’s going on?” I asked again.
“This was one of the most stupid meetings I’ve ever been involved in. Thanks for getting me out of it.”
“Not to worry.” I said. “It’s always nice to talk to you.”
“Meet me for lunch.” she said. “Alberto’s. We need to talk.” and she disconnected the call.
When your wife says something like that, all kinds of scenarios come to mind.
She was already at the restaurant when I got there and the look on my face must have been strange.
“It’s nothing about us.” she said laughing. “I can see how that must have sounded.”
“Well, that’s a relief.” I said.
“We got hacked.” she said. “When they turned up the computer system this morning, there was a message from someone saying if they didn’t receive $25,000 by noon, all data would be wiped out.”
The Blonde is an architect with an undergraduate degree in structural engineering. She has been with her firm a long time and has been offered a partnership, but that would mean that we would have to relocate, which would put an end to our life aboard Patty O’, something neither of us wants. She is very good at what she does and as such, works primarily in a trouble- shooter mode. The company has several locations, one in Boston, Massachusetts another in Albuquerque, New Mexico and another in Phoenix, Arizona. She has spent time in each branch, dealing with issues that have come up. She was offered the Albuquerque branch as a partner, but as I said, neither of us wants to give up the lifestyle we presently enjoy.
Ransomware is not an unheard of thing, but it usually is due to incompetence on the part of the people responsible for keeping things in the system safe and up to date. This proved to be the case here.
“He hadn’t changed passwords in over a year. And he’d done hardly any updates. They fired him this morning. The meeting then turned into a ‘He-said, she-said’ and that’s when I texted you and walked out. The boss followed me and asked me if I’d try and persuade you to come in and straighten things out.”
Leaning back in my chair, many thoughts went through my mind. When I was working a ‘real’ job, software was my thing. While I was long out of the business, I had made an effort to keep current, mostly because I enjoyed it. This looked like a challenge.
“Well, I guess I can talk to him and see what we can see.”
“Ok.” she said. “Do you want to follow me, or shall we drop off your truck?” It sounded like they were serious.
While Ransomware attacks aren’t that common, the occurrence of them has dropped due mostly to the high profile companies that have been impacted. We met in the manager’s office, with the CEO in attendance. Telling me what they had done so far, I took notes.
It was pretty bad. The software company that had set everything up and had contracted to keep everything current had failed big time. My recommendation was to trash everything and start from scratch, thereby purging any surprises left by the bad guys. I also recommended they audit the other three branches. This took a number of days and required massive amounts of data to be entered and backed up. Also, everything had to be carefully documented to support possible legal actions later. I spent close to two weeks on all this, working mostly 12 hours a day, and while I was compensated quite well, it was good to see the end of it. At the end, they offered me a job, which I declined. I’m quite happy living as we do aboard Patty O’. Keeping her in the shape she is in, while not a full time job, it’s one I enjoy immensely. I will leave high-pressure data management to the young stallions. One concession I did make was to agree to periodically audit whomever they hire to make sure this never happens again.
After all this, I needed some down time so the Blonde took a couple days off and we got Patty O’ underway for one of our favorite get away locations, Coecles Harbor, Shelter Island, New York. Coecles is a neat place to just kick back. We didn’t take Mustard, the little Century runabout that we use like a car when we cruise in Patty O’. Anchoring out, we both lounged around in the perfect early fall weather and enjoyed each day. We both like to read. I am fortunate that I can read a favorite book many times and still get the same enjoyment each time. In fact, I can go back and re-read a favorite chapter. This means that I have a lot of books. Thank goodness for E-readers!
The Blonde did a bit of work using the internet, but I just took it easy. We ate well, cooking on the cockpit grill. And for the millionth time, I realized just how good this lifestyle can be.