RANDOM REFLECTIONS ON
THE PERILS OF ONLINE LIFE
I am a confirmed Apple user.
Indeed, computers are the one product category in which I am brand loyal to a fault.
When I first met my, then-soon-to-be, son-in-law, who is a Mac technician, I told him that I was much relieved. If his specialty had been Microsoft, we’d have serious religious conflicts.
So devoted am I to Apple products, that I try to turn a blind eye to the company’s whacked-out, lefty political pretensions (they’re pretty much endemic to the whole Silicon Valley culture anyway, so what the heck!)
My brand loyalty has been rewarded with a succession of Apple computers which — while not without their idiosyncrasies — have performed wonderfully, responding in the most intuitive, user-friendly ways to my pre-computer-era skills and patterns of thinking. Of course, I must admit that having a Mac tech in the family is something of an advantage.
One of the virtues of Apple computers (or more accurately, of their operating systems) has been a much lower susceptibility to hacks and viruses than Windows-based gizmos.
But alas, nothing is perfect. It appears there’s some kind of bug infecting iPhones and other Apple devices. On top of that, I recently experienced a malware attack.
I was doing some online research, using the Safari browser, when a very official-looking notice appeared (complete with Safari logo) and my browser ceased to function.
Instantly I picked up the phone and called my son-in-law, who informed me that he was aware of this issue. It’s a scam designed to get the recipient to call a tech-support phone number displayed on the notice. He had encountered this before, though he didn’t know what would happen if someone called the number. (I, for one, don’t wish to think about that. I’m sure it’s the stuff of technological nightmares.)
Anyway, if you receive this notice or one like it, DON’T CALL THE NUMBER!
Force-quit out of your browser, and contact your technical-support provider. Often such problems can be corrected remotely. My son-in-law reached through cyberspace into my computer and set things right in about five minutes.
(They call it “technology,” but I suspect it’s really magic.)
This experience set me to reflect on how many malefactors are out there trying to exploit our dependence on sophisticated but fragile digital systems. Not to mention exploiting our anxieties and the various forms of technophobia with which we’re afflicted (especially people of my generation).
There’s a fellow who phones me regularly (from India, judging by his accent), informing me that he’s detected problems with my Windows system and he can help me. While he never explains how he detects these problems — and while I keep telling him that I don’t have a Windows system — he keeps calling. Obviously he needs to clean up his prospect file.
In Christian charity I like to think he’s lonely. I’m sure, however, that there’s some threat to my creditworthiness in the service package he’s offering.
It isn’t only on the technical side that we’re exploited these days. I keep encountering what’s called “click bait” on just about every web page I peruse. “Click bait” refers to those tantalizing little sidebar features that promise you some bit of substantial information, then lead you to click through a slide-show presentation that wastes time and aggravates your susceptibility to carpel-tunnel syndrome.
You’ve seen the sort of display I’m talking about. It can be anything from newly uncovered secrets about how the Obama Administration is softening us up for jihad, or which Hollywood stars have had the most disastrous facelifts, to young women with breasts the size of beach balls (Photoshop at work, I sincerely hope).
You never end up with much usable (or believable) information. But I understand that somehow the page owner earns money each time you click for the next image.
If that weren’t annoying enough, there’s a burgeoning array of so-called “humor” news sites. These are very authoritative-looking pages that feature headlines written to seem plausible and draw you into “reports” of the most outrageously convoluted plots and exposés.
I assume they’re just “click bait” in another form. But a lot of this “news” is written in a way that’s close enough to the truth that a lot of people believe it. I’ve pored through many a provocative lead paragraph before having my suspicions aroused.
As if we needed more false or misleading information.
You gotta figure that some innocent folks who post links to these stories on Facebook end up embarrassed when the ruse is pointed out by their friends.
In another area of cyber-deception, my wife, who sells on eBay and eCrater, tells all kinds of horror stories about scams to which she and her fellow online vendors have fallen prey. The seller chat boards are replete with stories about creative ways in which people steal merchandise, defraud the post office over allegedly damaged parcels, or otherwise enrich themselves at the expense of civility, honest commerce, and public trust. But then…
“Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” (Or words to that effect — Romans 5:20)
Just don’t try to argue against capital punishment after I’ve heard some tale about the latest Net-based atrocity. I live my life online, and I’m increasingly defensive.
I first became aware of the Internet’s potential for harm back in the late ’90s. Research on two novels led me to discover some very strange online “communities” and the dubious ways in which certain groups were attempting to use what was then called the World Wide Web for the purpose of “outreach.”
It happened that a relative expressed worry about her teenaged son who was much addicted to his computer. “I have no idea what kinds of dirty pictures he’s seeing,” she said.
“Dirty pictures are the least of your worries,” I replied. And then I shared the gist of some arresting appeals I’d come upon…
Hey kid, you feeling a little uncertain about your sexual orientation and gender identity? Contact us, and we’ll help you discover your true inner self.
Hey kid, you kind of pissed off at the oppressive political system? Contact us, and we’ll show you how to channel your rage into really effective activism.
Hey kid, you burned out on the church your parents made you attend? Contact us, and we’ll show you how to find fulfillment serving God in ways you can’t imagine.
She was taken aback, to say the least, and I suspect her son’s Web time got curtailed, at least for awhile.
Nowadays, of course, online recruiting — for whatever nefarious purpose — has been raised to the level of a high art. The global success of ISIS clearly shows that.
And of course, the really, really outrageous assault on our digital existence is just over the horizon. That’s the big EMP — Electromagnetic Pulse — attack.
Haven’t heard of it? It’s a sort of radiation storm created by exploding a nuclear weapon at high altitude. In other words, what John Kerry’s much-touted agreement with the Iranians is making possible. (Or maybe it’s the North Koreans. No matter, they’re probably working on it together.)
Supposedly, EMPs will fry all devices that contain circuit boards, which these days is pretty much everything. You’ll want to keep your electronic files, components, even computers locked inside a shielded container called a Faraday Cage.
Which makes them rather inconvenient to use.
But then an EMP attack would also knock out the national power grid. So we’d have no electricity with which to fire up any devices that might survive.
Ah … such are the perils of life in the Digital Age. My little brush with those malware malefactors was probably good preparation for what lies ahead.
Not for me to take Armageddon lying down. Anybody got a good plan for a Faraday Cage?
Christian thinkers have reflected on the moral dimensions of technology since long before the advent of computers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers numerous insights into the ongoing tension between scientific progress and human dignity under Article 5. In particular, it notes…
“Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits.”
You can read the whole section online at…
Despite my light tone, the possibility of an EMP attack is no joke. Just how much protection a Faraday Cage could offer is highly conjectural, since they’ve never (thank God) had a full-scale field test. But EMPs aside, solar flares also damage electronics, and we have experienced those.
If you want to know more about shielding of digital records and devices, check the website of Dr. Arthur T. Bradley. His approach to emergency preparedness seems reasoned and practical. It’s based on experience as a NASA engineer …