Author Dan Coughlin, former Plain Dealer columnist and longtime Channel 8 sports presenter, has slowly built a new book, chapter by chapter, of stories from his decades spanning Cleveland sports.
He doesn’t have a name yet for the sequel to “Crazy, With the Papers to Prove It” and “Pass the Nuts”, but a good candidate would be “Hold For Ransom”.
Coughlin, 76, isn’t what you would call a “digital native,” but he and the computer have worked really well together for years.
“I have my model set. I click on some things. I know the icons I click on. I don’t know what they do, but I know the icons,” he said.
Apparently he did the wrong click somewhere along the way, maybe on one of the many email channels he shares with friends, maybe the one with a fable that concludes, “Don’t be kidding. with old dogs. Age and skill always conquer youth and betrayal! “
Someone has played with him and their sort of betrayal – a “ransomware” that now holds the chapters of his book and all his other computer files hostage – might prove difficult to overcome.
If Coughlin wants his chapters back, it will cost him $ 700.
“I was outraged!” he bellowed. “They only value my work at $ 700? I think if they wanted a ransom it should have been a million, which I won’t pay either.”
The computer is maintained by his friend Carl Kuhn, who helps the people at Rocky River Senior Center with their computer problems. He found out about the ransom note and contacted Rocky River Police. A complaint was also filed with the FBI.
“My computer is a crime scene,” Coughlin said.
His is not the only one.
“One of the most common things we get calls for,” said Kelly Liberti, a special agent with the FBI field office in Cleveland. “There are so many different viruses out there.”
Computers are most often infected with viruses with names such as “CryptoLocker”, “Xorist” or “CryptoWall” when the user clicks on an attachment in an email that appears benign, prompting the virus to enter. , she said. Some websites can also infect computers if the antivirus software is not up to date.
Sometimes this is a simple ransom note and sometimes there will be a scary warning claiming to be from the Justice Department or the FBI warning that the user has done something illegal and must pay a fine.
Hackers can demand payment with a prepaid credit card or with bitcoin, a kind of digital currency. And sometimes people pay.
In Dickson County, Tennessee, for example, the sheriff’s office in November paid $ 572 in bitcoin to hackers who were holding important investigative files hostage. And the Swansea, Massachusetts Police Department in 2013 paid $ 750 to release its files.
Coughlin, who also lost tax and other records, said he would not pay.
“I don’t want to have an ongoing business relationship with these people,” he said.
Computer security experts say it’s not a bad plan. If people don’t pay the ransom, then the crime won’t pay. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Preparedness team says paying the ransom does not guarantee files will be unlocked, so save your money.
Coughlin says he’ll recreate the chapters on former Cavs owner Ted Stepien, Boston Marathon con artist Rosie Ruiz and others. Fortunately, some chapters were kept because he had already emailed them to his editor, Gray & Co. He swears to save his files to an external drive from now on, but the chapters lost, he said. said, have disappeared. forever.
“I have my notes. I can rewrite them. But telling this lie exactly twice is going to be hard! he joked. “This is how people get into trouble.”
The whole episode made him think of the trusty portable typewriter he used to take on the road with him as a beat writer covering Indians.
“It’s in the closet. It’s the typewriter that travels with me 55,000 miles a year. I went through the American League like Sherman went through Atlanta,” he said.
It was another time, a time before tweets, Instagrams, and cellphones that hold more data than a library. But this era had its advantages.
“You can say one thing for sure,” Coughlin said. “No one could hack someone’s typewriter.”
* (Plain Dealer consumer columnist Sheryl Harris offers some tips on preventing malware and ransomware here and here.)