Helen Martin: I’ve been hijacked! What does it mean?

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I suppose I should be surprised that, with my technical ineptitude, it’s never happened before.

In fact so inept am I about the ways of modern computing and broad-banding, that I can’t even tell you with any accuracy what’s happened now.

Have I been “hi-jacked”, “phished”, “Trojanned”, “hacked” or something else? The terminology is almost as tedious as the technology, so let’s sum it up by saying someone’s been messing with my e-mail.

I know, I know . . . it happens all the time. If you’re a pointy-head, it’s no big deal. Well actually, it is. It’s a bit like being burgled; except instead of sneaking in the window or picking the lock, coming in to your home and rifling through your drawers and belongings, these “thieves” sneak in through cyberspace or whatever it’s called and make off with all your contacts’ addresses.

But is that all they’ve done? As with the housebreaker, I may not know for months what’s gone; what mischief has been created in my PC folders and files . . . what secrets have been stolen, what viruses lurk in the wiry crevices of my online world, or indeed, whether or not my ID is in the process of being nicked.

So far all that’s happened is that everyone from the editor-in-chief to the neighbour across the road has been sent a message, purporting to come from me, saying I’ve cleared my heavily burdensome debt by using the following link and they’d be daft not to give it a go.

At least it wasn’t claiming that I had successfully enhanced my physical appendage – a common online spam thingy which might have been disturbing given that I’m the wrong sex (or would it have been even more embarrassing if I’d been a man?) – or that I had been mugged and left for dead on the other side of the world and urgently required funds sent to a certain account. Hopefully no-one would have fallen for that last one, but then . . . what if I really had been stranded in a foreign land? It’s galling to think of one’s friends and colleagues merrily pressing “delete” and getting on with their day.

That, of course, is what you should do if you get one of these blatantly rogue e-mails, even if you know the name in the “From” box. Opening the link is disastrous and only succeeds in spreading the virus to your own PC and all your contacts.

Some of the pointy-headed ones have tried to assure me it IS a virus. That is, it is not a malicious individual setting out to target me personally any more than one could blame flu or Ebola for picking its victims.

In my ignorance I can only hope they are correct. But putting it right is another matter.

It’s like losing your wallet with credit and debit cards inside. You may not have been intending using them, and if you’ve dropped it down a drain or half-way up a mountain, there’s little likelihood of a rogue emptying your accounts, but the hassle of cancelling the cards and waiting for new ones, or applying for a replacement driving licence etc is a pain in the neck.

So it is with an e-mail attack. Clueless about IT as I am, I managed to set my PC to full scan . . . which took hours and hours. Eventually it found a dozen “cookie trackers” (whatever they might be; not, I imagine, a team of determined Jaffa cake addicts) and a virus which it said it had “dealt with”. I then changed my password. What more can a Luddite technophobe be expected to do?

But was it “job done”? Was it Dell! Two days later I was still getting messages from people who said they had received “peculiar” e-mails from me within the last 30 minutes. I contacted my e-mail provider who said they would monitor my e-mail for 24 hours and meantime I should set the full scan going again. There’s something spooky about the thought of being “monitored”, but at least these are the pointy-headed good guys from BT.

I’ve now been advised not to open “jokes” even from reliable sources; not to have e-mail accounts with less secure providers and to use browsers which don’t encourage sabotage by pointy-headed baddies. At least I think that’s what they said. It would be easier if they invented whole new words rather than confusing new definitions for old . . . when did a net cease to be something for catching fish or holding hair in place; and when did Java stop being a sort of coffee?

Anyway, I’m now petrified to go near the bloody thing in case I inadvertently admit the web’s answer to Beelzebub into my life.

Oh, and there was something about clouds – but that was way over my head.