Beware of Geeks Bearing Grifts . . .

by Terri Coop

It started out innocently enough.  A dinner guest asked a question about the alien crash at Roswell that I couldn’t answer off the top of my head.

(What?  You don’t talk about aliens over dinner?)

I went to my trusty laptop to practice some Google-fu.  I hit a key to wake it up and the screen flashed.  According to the colorful dialogue box, my hard drive and registry were host to some 2,367 viruses and if I didn’t immediately subscribe to their product that the Center for Disease Control would be by in their bunny suits to collect my computer.

Whatever . . .

Did this little scam think I fell off the truck from Stupid yesterday?  I had guests and a conversation about aliens that required my attention.  I fired up my security software and left the room.

When I came back later, cyber-hell had broken loose.  A terse dialogue box informed me that my security program was corrupt and had been deactivated for my safety and unless I “activated” their anti-virus software program for the oh-so-low price of $49.95, my hopelessly infected system would be permanently shut down for my own safety. 

This. Was. Not. Good.

Apparently, my laptop was being held hostage by a con game.  The ransom was $49.95 and all of my personal information. 

Either that or the government was finally onto me.  Hmmm . . . nah . . . it was a virus.  A big one.  A cunning one.  A worthy opponent.

The battle was on.  Armed with two sets of anti-malware and anti-virus software and the handy-dandy F8 key, two hours later I had twenty-five different Trojan Horse viruses cooling their virtual heels in my virus vault.  Exhausted, yet triumphant, I rebooted for what I hoped was the last time that day.  I was greeted by a small gray dialogue box informing me that certain .dll files could not be located.

As I soon discovered, a .dll file is sort of like your spleen.  You don’t know exactly what it does, you don’t really care, but when it’s broken, bad things happen. 

A visit to Microsoft on my office computer shed a bit of light on the situation.

“The use of DLLs helps promote modularization of code, code reuse, efficient memory usage, and reduced disk space. . . .  When a program uses a DLL, a dependency is created. If another program overwrites and breaks this dependency, the original program may not successfully run.”

Gee thanks Mr. Gates.  Apparently, my system was addicted to .dll files, a cyber-junkie.  As I cornered the invaders, they cut off the .dll supply, sending my computer into a full-tilt jones.  It was sad to watch as programs crashed one after another, victims of broken .dll dependencies.  A meme is a terrible thing to waste.

Luckily, I came up in the olden days in the land of DOS.  Yes, kids, once upon a time, you actually had to know a little bit before you could use a computer.  I was able to get in and recover my documents and photos to a pocket hard drive.  After that, I put my system out of its misery and did a complete reformat and reinstall.

Lessons learned?

The usual.  Good security software and regular scans.  Have at least two different browsers installed.  Never be without an external hard drive and back up your files.  And so on and so forth.

That’s the responsible adult stuff.  I had done all that and still got that little blinking dialogue box that spoiled my weekend.  Obviously, there was more blame to go around.  Aliens?  Evil clowns?  Men In Black?  An innocent looking hotlink when I was tired or distracted?

I’ll never know.  However, always remember and never forget; if it walks like a con and quacks like a con, you are about to be conned.  Trojan Horses abound, so beware of geeks bearing grifts.


  1. I'm certain it was the evil clowns, though that name is an oxymoron, since all clowns are, in fact, evil.

  2. Kudos to you for acting so bravely and quickly, although sorry it ate up your weekend. I have found a similar message but left the fight to my son. Have a great holiday.

  3. I've lost count of the number of viruses I've put out to pasture. Durned little things keep coming back though.

    They're like zombies. Or flared trousers.


  4. Bad virus! Bad virus! Okay, I have exhausted my knowledge on the subject. Send in the clowns.

  5. Yep, backup, backup, backup, and when your done, do a backup again.
    You never know when you are going to get hit.

  6. Thank ya all very much. Now my office computer has entered into the last of its geriatric life. I was quite annoyed until I realized it was nine years old. In computer years, that is prehistoric. I remember back in the day, I paid extra to have 512MB of RAM installed!


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