Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The man who's not from Microsoft

The phone rings. You answer it. There is a silence then an echoey kind of crackle and the sound of voices talking in the background before a man with an eastern Asian accent says "Can I talk to Mr. G. [Real name redacted to confuse NSA: Ed], even though you have announced your name loud and clear, so you say "Speaking" and he says "Good Morning, How are you today? (as if he cares) My name is (insert any name you like here, it's not his real name), I am calling from the Technical Help Centre (or something. It doesn't matter),  we have been notified of a problem on your computer".

At this point, if you know about these calls, you probably hang up. If you don't, you may be fooled into thinking that the call is genuine. Because he will go on to ask you to open the Control Panel on your Windows desktop (if you are not running Windows and say so, he will hang up) and display the system log. This log is stuffed full of fairly meaningless Microsoft internal code messages and can be safely ignored by anyone except a real IT specialist. He will then ask you read out one or two lines and will then say this proves it, your computer has a serious virus and is about to crash, and the solution is to download some software from him that will fix it. Of course, if you do this, you will download a piece of malicious code that really will lock up your computer, forcing you to pay these crooks to get rid of it, or perhaps conning you into buying even more "fixes".

There is a third way, to go on the attack and see how much of his time you can waste. I tried this on when I received one of these calls today. I spent some time asking him to prove how he knew my computer had a fault. The obvious question is to ask whether he knew my IP address, the unique number that identifies my computer whilst making internet connections. This morning's caller did not, of course, because all he had in front of him was a script to read as the automatic dialler selected its next victim. But, he foolishly told me, this was known to his technical department. So put me on to them, I helpfully suggested. Ah, for some reason he couldn't do that. But he still gamefully insisted that he knew, because it had shown up on his "firm's server" that there was a problem. Well, which computer was it? I've got more than one, I truthfully replied. He didn't know so he improvised brilliantly and said "All of them. They will all crash". "What, even the one running Linux [An operating system some people use, different from both Windows and Apple's IOS: Ed] and the C64? (a games console from the 1980s that you can, if you really want to, use to connect to the Internet but frankly, banging your head against a wall would be more fun)" I asked, no longer speaking truthfully and waiting for him to say yes, so that I could ask him how that could even be possible.

I think he became a little offended and made some comment that he was trying to help - my response, well, you're not doing a very good job, so he added that he was calling from Microsoft, as though that might strengthen his credentials. This was a foolish thing to say. I asked him which department, what was his payroll number and whether he knew my good friend Jim Atkinson (a fictional character). He floundered - now he was working for a company that was a sub-contractor. We fenced a little more until I tired and hung up. That's 7 minutes of his life he will never get back, and for which he will have earned nothing. As for me, well, it's given me some pleasure and the inspiration to write this piece. So I make that 1-0 to Ramblings and look forward to meeting my new friend, his mysterious technical department chums and maybe even his supervisor (a.k.a. the guy sitting next to him) in the next round, when if he tries the Microsoft line again, I shall ask if he is going to their Sports & Social Club Christmas Dinner & Dance to be held in the firm's canteen.

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