I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but I have long held the belief that you should never, ever utter out loud the words “Things can’t get any worse.” Not only is it seldom true, but it is just tempting the universe to prove you wrong. I recently have added another phrase to my banned list: “Now what?” That was the title of my last blog, written about a month ago, in which I complained that late winter was a really boring time of the year. Unfortunately, the universe apparently also was feeling a bit underwhelmed with the post-holiday/ pre-Game of Thrones premiere period, and decided to liven things up a bit.
We have spent a good part of the last month at The Citizen recovering from a malware attack. This was a nifty little program that slipped right past our anti-virus software, attached to a piece of spam e-mail that I never even saw, let alone opened. It turned most of our files into mp3 files, which unfortunately did not contain any new musical releases. As you might imagine, we have a LOT of files that are distributed across a number of linked computers, backed up in various ways that proved ineffective.
We use some pretty unique software, some of it specifically designed for the publishing industry, so those files were not touched, but a lot of critical graphic and data files became useless, at least until the ransom was paid to get the key to decipher the corrupted files. There was a lovely little message planted in every single folder and sub-folder that explained that we had so many days to come up with a certain amount of money in Bitcoin – no American Express for these guys. Bitcoins apparently are the popular currency among criminals around the world, and therefore most non-criminals cannot easily get their hands on them. They are heavily regulated by a number of federal agencies, absolutely none of which seem capable of stopping the malware that requires common citizens to purchase Bitcoins in the first place.
I did a bit of research, realized I was in way over my head, and called someone who is an expert on all things computer. His advice, which he had given to several clients over the past year, was pay the ransom if we wanted to see our files ever again. So we paid, and the real work began. The files were not recovered as easily and quickly as they had been encrypted, not by a long shot. Each week, as we attempted to get a newspaper on the street, it seemed that we found yet another way that our system had been impacted. We came up with Band-aid after Band-aid to recreate some of the data we needed. There was more than one moment when I came very, very close to saying, “That’s it. I’m shutting the paper down.”
We are still working out the kinks of the aftermath of this malware, and you may still see some strange things in the paper from time to time. But one thing you will not ever see is me asking, “Now what?”