May 29, 2016

Hacked to Death, or The Week in Oblivion


Id just returned from a low-key and relaxing week in Green Bay, where I helped celebrate my moms eightieth birthday. Had a chance to spend some time with her, my sister, my nieces and my great-niece, eat some fried perch, drink some Pabst, have a cookout and just be away from the Machine for a spell. It was good. At eighty, my mom is still sharper, funnier, healthier and more alive than most people I know in their fifties, so by the end of the week I could leave confident and reassured. Even the flights there and back were tediously uneventful, and that never, ever happens.

The morning after I got back to Brooklyn I turned on the Machine for the first time to see what Id missed. Not a whole helluva lot, it seemed. There wasnt much by way of email, so I thought Id see if any of the stories Id slammed out and passed on to the assorted sites I write for before I left had been posted yet.

The first stop was Smashpipe, a site Id been writing for weekly since late last year, and which over time had become a sort of old NY Press reunion. The editor, the art director, the illustrators, a handful of the writers, even the ad salespeople had been associated with the Press during its golden era in the late Nineties, and wed all clicked back together quite nicely. Plus it paid.

Okay, the site was down, but that wasnt new. Whenever the guy who runs it started fiddling around with the code, things could go down for a couple of hours. Itd be back. So I checked in at The Chiseler, a site Id been writing for almost weekly for what must be seven or eight years now. The Chiseler was always fun, focusing as it did for the most part on obscure culture from the first half of the twentieth century. Forgotten writers, filmmakers, criminals and politicians. It was oddly smart, had a neat layout, and for reasons no one could fathom, had developed quite a following.

Alright, that hadnt been updated either, but that was almost to be expected. The guy who ran it was a professor, and his semester was wrapping up. He was neck deep in papers and grading, so didnt have much time to find photos and post my new piece about Robert Benchley. No big deal there either, and no big deal overall. In fact it meant I didnt have to make a madcap plunge back into work immediately. I could catch my breath, reorient myself, and get back up and running slowly. Im getting older, after all.

Then the phone calls started. Daniel from The Chiseler called to tell me that although he was all done with the school work, he hadnt been able to post an update because the site had been hacked. He had some idea who was behind it, but that was just speculation. As hacks go, it was pretty mild. Everything was still up there, but Daniel could no longer get into the page himself to post a new issue. It had happened before, and was more a pain in the ass than anything. All it took was getting in touch with one of the techs at Tumblr.

Okay, so wed bide our time there. He had ten or twelve stories of mine backed up anyway. Then a few hours later the phone rang again. It turns out Smashpipe wasnt just down for the usual tinkeringit, too, had been hacked, and much more savagely. The site was not only down, it seems someone, the publisher was convinced it was the Chinese for some reason, had somehow grabbed control of the domain and completely obliterated all the content. That was no good. Dozens of calls and emails later, it became clear the site was irretrievably fried, blasted, permanently kablooey. Even though it had been backed up on separate servers, those, I was told, had been wiped clean as well.

The Chinese, though? What the fuck would they want with the site? There was no profit motive and no discernible political agenda at work. It was a fairly benign site, with some news commentary, history, science, and weirdness. Why the hell would they care? The story made me a little suspicious, but thats all more pointless speculation. What mattered was that the site was gone, apparently for good, and with it a big chunk of my income.

Then the next day an increasingly frustrated Daniel at The Chiseler, whod been able to make no headway at all with the Tumblr tech support people, was about ready to throw in the filthy towel himself. It wasnt worth all the frustration, especially considering hed been through it before and whoever did it would likely do it again as soon as the site was up and running.

Well, shit. Home from Wisconsin less than forty-eight hours, and it looked like two of my primary outlets, as well as about two-thirds of my present income, had evaporated underneath a few sinister keystrokes.

Things remained complicated for the next several days with a steady flurry of emails and phone calls, though nothing was resolved, no answers were forthcoming, and my paranoia only grew as overwhelming as the stress, as I began wondering how the hell I was going to get by.

Well, I guess Id been here before. More than a few times to be honest. Something would come up. It always did, even if it took a few years. But still I couldnt help but wonder why the fuck hackers would go after those two particular sites at exactly the same time. And why would they bother to put useless scrubs like myself out of business? Why not do something worthwhile with those skills of theirs? I mean, I freely admit I have no clue how any of this shit works, but why not target places where they might actually do the world a bit of good, like Homeland Security, Wall Street, the Pentagon, or the power grid?

But yeah, that wasnt the end of it. That Saturday night I got a note from my friend Tony, with whom Id worked at both sites. He told me a goofy political piece wed collaborated on and posted at Smashpipe last December had since appeared word for word on at least half a dozen other sites, in each case running under a different byline, none of which even closely resembled ours. But now with the original blasted into cyberdust, there was no goddamn way we could prove it, and so nothing we could do.

Well, shit again. And people wonder why I so despise these fucking Machines and pine for the old newspaper days? Worst anyone could do to a newspaper was take all the issues out of a box and dump them in the trash. Then maybe take a dump in the box. But the words were still there, and there would always be another issue.

Christ, first the publishing business implodes beneath me, now this. So I guess what I do now, with another long sigh, is start over again. Maybe this time Ill be a cabinetmaker or a mortician.

Postscript: The day after I finished writing the above, Daniel called again to let me know that, after much hair-pulling, The Chiseler was back in business again. So thats something anyway.


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