In two diabolically hellish weeks at work recently, I was often left staring at the laptop screen, dumbfounded. It'd reached a point where anything I did was wrong and even doing nothing was chastised in language that was vitriolic, to say the least. Remember the scenes where a group of people surround a guy and proceed to beat and kick him down till he's forced to curl into a ball, hoping to avoid further punishment ?
By last Friday evening, I had reached that figurative foetal position. The same few thoughts kept circling around - Why was every molehill being turned into a mountain ? Why was I putting up with this aggravation ? What was so enamouring about the job that I was shouldering so much invective & stress ? Heck, why didn't I just quit ? I had no answers. I do remember being surprised at how much fear was coursing through me and wondering what I was scared about. It was just a job, right ? So, why didn't I believe that ?
To get my mind off the shitstorm, I began a clean-up of the computer; the registry was cleaned, files backed up and the temporary files folder deleted. Lastly, I made my way to Program Files and began deleting the redundant stuff there when I came across a folder called SoftActivity (please get your mind out of the gutter). I couldn't recall ever installing or even seeing this name before so I went through it.
And found that this cute piece of work, installed on my laptop since July 2010, is a maha-funda, powerful keylogger software.
I've written previously about how I'm not particulary anxious to experience the high-falutin emotional descriptions much favoured by the writing fraternity. But there was an undeniable "mouth went dry and tongue became like sandpaper" experience going around.
Now, unlike a sizeable portion of what passes for human beings at the workplace, I don't waste my time on various social or game sites. I also don't visit job sites, hoping for a fast exit from what, in truth, is the professional equivalent of Gomorrah. I get along okay with the management & colleagues and do pretty good work. Or so I've thought while some third-rate mofo had been stealthily recording EVERY key I'd ever typed since last July.
I'll confess, just thinking about the sheer enormity of it made me need to sit down and collect my thoughts. To say I was stupefied would be putting it accurately. Every online chat session, every email, every bank account password... all of it had been compromised. Coupled with the maelstrom of work-related stress I was already carrying, it was a miracle I managed to even get home that night. Since sleep was out of the window, I spent the time figuring out what had to be done to salvage some of the wreck masquerading as my secure online information. And so it was that a marathon Saturday and Sunday session with me hunched over the house computer left the following:
One personal email account closed, after migrating everything that could be moved, to a new account. Two other personal email account details changed and left to the mercy of fate, since there's only so much information that I gave a damn about.
Blog, photos and analytics account details changed and migrated.
Bank account passwords changed, ATMs visited personally to change the pins and hope for the best.
Professional network account changed.
Basically, the life I'd been living online since 2006 had to vacate and find a new city.
The crap at work abated somewhat on Monday and I managed to get the software removed from the computer that evening. The management doesn't know who installed it since they supposedly didn't authorise it. The senior IT consultant in Hyderabad doesn't know anything about it either. So that leaves the junior in-house IT guy, who was on holiday all of last week. If he hasn't installed the software, I have to reconcile with the fact that some unknown entity has about 10 months of my data, with me unable to do a damn thing about it.
To say that I feel violated is putting it mildly. But I also realised just how much of my information is in cyberspace and how easy it is / would be for someone to steal this data, https or no https. So, while I'm waiting for the IT bloke to show up, for a little WTF were you thinking - frank heart-to-heart chat, maybe anyone reading this should inspect your work and home pc's for innocuous looking folders that could be much more.
I've stopped accessing personal stuff at work. Even if there is supposedly no software tracking anything, I just don't trust the system any more. Now, I access new information from a lot of other websites during office hours and limit the casual reader /mail / chat stuff to about an hour at home. Considering I got lucky while finding that software, learning a lesson this way was worth the inconvenience I guess.
It has also spurred me to renew my efforts to change workplaces. As the bloke said, "Some things you do, you can never take back..."
Song for the moment: Black dog - Led Zeppelin