Paul MacIntyre

Paul MacIntyre is the Instructional Design Manager for MetaCompliance. He has over 15 years’ experience in adult education and has written a wide range of courses focussed on cyber security and best practice for online safety.

A Tale of Two Devices

My phone is my life. I’m not even joking, everything is on there. My friends, my work, my bank, just everything. I mean, seriously, who needs a laptop these days? My phone does everything, I can even pay for my coffee with it! It’s small, easy to use, and the battery lasts all day. What more could you ask for?

Best of all, I can even connect it to my Smart TV (this bit amazes my Mum) without using any wires! Want to watch a period drama on demand (obviously I don’t, but who’s going to say “No” to their Mum)? Tap, swipe and done! From my phone to the big screen, just like that! She thinks I’m some kind of techno-genius, and I’m not going to disagree!

Life is good… until it isn’t. You know, it’s amazing the impact that one simple mistake can have. My mistake? Trusting a message from a friend. I should’ve known better. He hates techy stuff. But when he sent me an article about a pre-release version of a new app that streams super-compressed, seriously high-quality videos from your phone to your TV, well, who could resist? The article even had a really helpful link.

A couple of quick taps and I’ve got it on my phone, send a link to my Smart TV, and we’re all set-up. To be honest, I didn’t notice much difference, I was slightly disappointed.

Anyway, that was this afternoon. Now I know what really happened. And my Mum doesn’t think I’m some kind of super-ninja tech guru any more.

She wanted to catch up on Wuthering Heights. Seriously, why isn’t this stuff available on regular TV? So, I’m about to queue it up for her when my world falls apart. I have a warning from the police on my phone and on my TV that I’ve been watching illegal content and that I have a fine to pay… in Bitcoin?

Now I never go near those dodgy sites, I’m happy with my subscription service. I’m also pretty certain that the police don’t take payment in Bitcoin. No, this is Ransomware.

But the look I get from my Mum, that look of disappointment, that’s going to stay with me for a while. I try to explain to her what it is, that some criminal has infected my phone and my TV with Ransomware, and that they are pretending to be the police to scare people into paying more quickly.

I borrow her phone to look it up on the Internet to prove I’m not lying (and to see if anyone knows how to get rid of this stuff), that’s when I notice an unread message… from me. Apparently, I sent her a text message telling her about this amazing new video player. Only I didn’t. It slowly dawns on me, the message I received, my friend didn’t send it, the Ransomware sent it from his phone.

That means… How many people have received a message from my phone telling them about this dodgy software? I need to warn them, but how?

That’s when it hits me, I use my phone for everything! Without it, oh no. No no no. I got rid of my laptop years ago, and with phone screens so big, I gave away my tablet too. If I need to see something on a bigger screen, I just share it on my TV. I can’t even borrow my Mum’s phone to log into my social media accounts to warn my friends. Crazy as it sounds, I don’t know any of my passwords.

They’re all safely stored on a password manager, on my phone. My PIN number! It’s in there too, I never could remember it, so I just stored it in the password manager. Best of all, I specifically choose one that didn’t use my internet connection, I figured it would be safer. And, I suddenly realise, not backed up!

And that sets off another alarm bell in my head, when was the last time I backed up my phone? I have a vague memory of disabling automatic backups when I was watching, oh, what was it? Last year’s premiere of Sense and Sensibility? Oh no. Nothing has been backed up for ages. Oh, this isn’t good, not good at all!

Right, first things first. Use Mum’s phone to look up this error message. Great, no guarantee that my phone will be released if I pay. Alternatives, alternatives… What else can I do? Ah, do a factory reset on my phone. Wipe everything out and start again. Everything, all of my files, passwords, photos, videos, documents I had been working on, all gone.

Here’s the real kick in the teeth, I had to borrow some money from my Mum to tide me over for a few days, long enough for me to get my PIN number sent out for my bank card. So embarrassing.

As for my TV, well, I found an article online that makes me think I might be able to do a factory reset on it. If not, then I’ll be paying for an engineer visit to get it fixed. Brilliant! That’s all I need!

So now I’m spending a week trying to reset all of the passwords for my online accounts and apologising to everyone for the fake messages that came from my phone. I’m living like a monk until my PIN number arrives, because the last thing I want to do is to borrow more money.

And that’s why I’m stuck at home, alone on a Friday night, while everyone else is out enjoying life.