Just A Thought - Digital Hijacking
by , 10:00 AM EDT, May 7th, 2003
The following story is fiction. I tell you this story to illustrate a point which I promise to make abundantly clear. Any resemblance of the characters in this purely fabricated tale to any real person is by coincidence only.
I was surfing the 'Net using a friend's PC when a pop-up ad appeared on the screen. Carla and Jim Bobsey (not their real names) were busy having milk and cookies with their teenaged children, Billy and Betty (Twins but not identical unless Betty is hiding something) and nine year old Roy.
The ad showed a rather healthy looking and scantily clad woman, apparently named Veronica Vixen, who invited me to "See the Wonders of the World!" I hate pop-ups. On my Mac at home, Safari kills them so efficiently that I get surprised when, in Internet Explorer, pop-ups do appear. Anyway, intrigued by Ms. Vixen's invitation (I'm the adventurous sort) and believing that Ms. Vixen had to be as intelligent as she was beautiful because she had somehow gained the ability to have parts of her anatomy defy gravity, I clicked on the link in the pop-up.
Now, if you are of at least normal intelligence and have had some experience with pop-up ads all sorts of bells and alarms should be going off in your head right about now. They should have gone off in mine too but, as I said, Safari has spoiled me. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Well, when I clicked on Ms. Vixen's ad, several things happened, the obvious of which was the new, um, position I found Ms. Vixen in on the Web page that was being displayed. The site did portray several wonders but I believe they were for the more worldly sort of travel. Fearing that my hosts and their children would stop in to see what I was up to, I quickly left Ms. Vixen's world by clicking on the browser's 'Home' link.
Lo and behold, there was Ms. Vixen in all of her voluptuous glory. Thinking that I merely made a mistake I consciously watched the cursor hover over the 'Home' icon on the browser while I left-clicked it again.
Hello again, Ms. Vixen!
"What the...," I muttered as I found the browser configuration menus . Oddly, Ms. Vixen's site had replaced whatever the Bobsey's had as a home page. No worries, I jumped over to MSNBC and made it the new home site. That would leave Jim scratching his balding pate and wondering what happened to his normal home page, but at least he wouldn't know about my visit to Ms. Vixen.
I left the Bobsey's computer firmly believing that the family would continue to think of me as Vern, the Nice Geek from Down the Street, and have no cause to think of me as Vern the Pervert from Down the Street.
Two days later, Jim called and asked if I could stop by, he said that there was something wrong with his computer and he wanted my opinion on how to fix it. My stomach immediately knotted as visions of Ms. Vixen cavorting in front of the twins replayed like some video from Hell in my mind. Did I forget to wipe the cache? No, I distinctly remember doing that, and wiping the history. I was careful, though, admittedly I don't feel entirely comfortable with any version of Windows, I can never figure out where apps hide files.
I stopped by Jim's house and he lead me into the study where I had, only 48 hours before, had my first encounter with Ms. Vixen. My stomach lurched as Ms. Vixen smiled, invitingly, back at me from the screen.
"I don't know what happened," Jim said. "I was looking for the show times for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, and she popped up."
I smiled, relieved. "Jim, you sly dog! Yeah, right! "Spirit." Uh-huh!" I gave him a wink and the poor man shuddered.
"No! It's not what you think! I NEVER meant to go to this site. I don't even know how I got there. It just appeared. And now I can't get rid of it." Jim became frantic. His eyes, normally bright and calming, were two great white orbs that seemed to be trying to escape the prison of their sockets. "I don't surf THOSE sites! Oh geez! What will Carla think?!"
He grabbed me by the collar and pleaded as a man would while being dragged to a firing squad. "Vern! YOU GOTTA HELP ME!!! PLEASE!"
Of course, if this was a true story I would have helped him, but it wouldn't be easy. Jim's computer would have been hijacked. Some Web sites load files and scripts onto your computer when you click on a pop-up or visit some innocent seeming sites. The least obnoxious method of hijacking is to simply change your default or home page so that when you log on you are immediately deposited at a site selling time-shares or time with Ms. Vixen.
Lucky for me, the story isn't true and luckily for us Mac users, hijacking is not as common as it is on the PC but only for the same reason we have so few viruses as compared to our Windows counterparts: There are fewer Macs.
But make no mistake, Macs are just as vulnerable to hijacking as PCs, especially if you use a browser, like Internet Explorer, that does not block pop-ups.
Though OS X is fairly secure there are still things you can do to make sure hijacking and getting a computer infested with viruses and spyware happens to someone else. SecurereMac.com has all sorts of info on making your Mac the computer equivalent of Fort Knox. Hints, tips, and security alerts help keep you informed so that it is harder for you to become a victim.
John, if you are reading this, I want to assure you that this has absolutely nothing to do with that incident last year. And I hope the twins are doing well with their therapy.
Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.
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