I Am about to share a very personal story about my girlfriend. Initially, I was skeptical about sharing this, but I think everybody needs to know about it for their own good. My girlfriend almost became a victim of cyber-crime and that’s something that shouldn’t happen to anybody. Her troubles would have have been truly immeasurable if in the nick of time, she hadn’t been given right guidance.
I met Shilpa when she was only sixteen. She was a teenager preparing for her 10th boards. I was not much older, in 12th, preparing for IIT. We happened to frequent the same tution classes. I would catch her eye every Thursday, for only then would both our classes end at the same time.
I was never very confident back then, and would find myself especially shy of girls I took a liking to, I couldn’t simply walk up to her and introduce myself. I would try and muster the strength, but then would imagine myself flustering and saying something silly, like “Hi I am Harsh, and I love your hair.”
One Thursday, I noticed Shilpa chatting with Henna, they were sitting at the steps laughing, probably at jokes that boys are usually not privy to. This was my chance! Henna was dating Ravi, one of my closest friends, and all I had to do for a proper introduction was ask her.
Later that evening, I confessed to Henna and Ravi how I was taken to Shilpa, and asked for their help. Henna, the best planner I have ever known, asked me not to worry. She asked me to patiently wait until she called me back.
By the next day Henna had the most ingenious plan of all, she had invited Shilpa for lunch herself and Ravi, and at the same time she secretly invited me. Henna was to have a sudden household ‘emergency’ have Ravi drive her home and leave Shilpa and I to our own device for the afternoon.
So it was on a Saturday afternoon we find ourselves alone at lunch at Mainland China, there is much we talked about. I learned much about her- how her parents are separated, and she lives with mother. She tells how times are hard, and how much she needs to do well at academics, so she may win a scholarship for college.
She criticizes her old box-like Nokia phone, and tells me how she is stuck with a hand me down laptop of her uncle, a slow incapable machine from the early 2000s. She wasn’t much like me, but she was beautiful, and I was a geek. The internet was my second home, and for her only a medium of communication and entertainment. I was so enamored by her, I failed to notice the real threat she was facing then.
I learned much of what happened later.
You see her laptop is the only way she used Facebook, listen to music, watch movies, chat with her peers and stay in touch with her friends. Yet she had no time for it, little for me, none for the other boys, barely for surfing the web or Facebook and social media. She wants to be a doctor you see, and her late hours are usually spent with biology books.
Shilpa couldn’t bother with the upkeep of her computer. It was gradually getting slow, and she had no idea how to upgrade the software, or at least protect it from spam, viruses, trojans, and junk apps.
She had asked for help from our common friend Ravi, who suggested a free anti-virus application, which gives you some security but does not safeguard your personal computer completely.
It might have been her imagination, but she felt her laptop get physically lighter once the anti-virus was installed and ready. The laptop surely did run faster, and she felt reassured every time her mouse would hover over the anti-virus icon on the down left corner of her screen. The icon would say ‘P’ for protected.
Sounds legitimate, right? Well, it nearly ruined her life!
On the night of our first official date, she had the worst time picking a dress, Shilpa’s mother’s fashion sense were long gone, and Shilpa had no choice but to Skype her best friend Ruchi in Pune for help. While showing Ruchi all the options available to her, a little window popped up asking her to install a password manager.
Now some of you might know not to trust every pop up which you see on your browser, but Shilpa was in a rush to leave, and besides it promised only to take a couple of minutes.
Our date was lovely, I realized how much we shared- we both loved soft rock, had a burning desire to travel, we even watched the same cartoons when we were kids. None of us then suspected the tiny spyware program she unknowingly installed on her computer with the password manager. The vicious program nesting in her computer reading all her data.
Over the next few weeks, we spoke over the phone, all this while the program was taking a deeper control of her computer, switching on her webcam in secret and recording her. Reading her fingers stroke the keyboard, reading the passwords and all her user information. An ill intended hacker was watching her every move, waiting for her to slip, to upload private pictures, or use her credit card.
One weekend when her mother was out of town Shilpa called me over for dinner, she had dusted the living room, set up candles, and made pasta. I brought some alcohol. We had a romantic candle light dinner, and then decided to dance a little.
Shilpa carried her sound system, and her laptop out and asked me to set up the music while she changed. The moment Windows loaded, a bunch of strange errors appeared, a clear sign of the computer being infected. I quickly started running a deep scan for viruses, and going through all the applications she had installed and removing anything which looked malicious.
I was furious with Shilpa for being so careless about her privacy. Is it she was not bothered, with installation of toolbars, and anti-virus softwares and updates. Is it that computer was outdated and old? I reckon not.
It is not fair that the internet is such an unsafe place for the us the casual user. But who is going to protect us from the vagrants criminals online? Whom do you hold responsible? Nobody but yourself for being an idiot.
Within a minute, the date was ruined for me and I kept working at making her laptop better. At first, she didn’t understand was I was doing and she thought I was being a hopeless geek and ignoring her. When I told her what exactly was going on, she started crying out of shock. With God’s grace, nothing had gone wrong. But it could easily have become messy. She could have become a victim of a financial scam, and because she is a girl, she could have been a victim of something much worse. I wrote this down so that it may be a warning for everybody else. Don’t neglect your computer and its safety. You’ll never know what could go wrong.