Random Friday: Imprecise communication, infosec, & hereditary paranoia.

Watch Dogs 2 apparently doesn’t know what cybercriminals are supposed to wear. More on that in a minute.

Conversations in the real world.

Me: “What time does your plane leave?”

Him: “In the morning.”

Me: “Ok, let’s try this. What time do you need to leave the house?”

Him: “I’ll still be here when you get up.”

Me: “… But when do you have to leave?”

Him: “After you get up.”

Me: “… … …”

Him: “Why do you want to know?”

Me: “What do you mean, why do I want to know?”

Him: “I mean, is there some reason, or are you just curious…?”

Me: “Neither of those are valid questions. We’re married! You’re going on a trip! I need to know when you’re leaving! I don’t need a specific reason, and it doesn’t qualify as just curiosity.”

Him: “So… you’re just curious.”

Me: “NO. Oh my freaking god. Which part of ‘need to know’ isn’t apparent in this relationship? We both live here. You’re going somewhere else. I NEED TO KNOW.”

Him: “I know! I know! … … I just wondered if there’s some reason you need to know…”

Me: “Yes. I need to know when to puncture your brake line. I want you to get some distance from the house before it all goes down, and I wouldn’t want you to notice a strange puddle under the car. That could ruin everything.

Him: “Oh. Ok.”

From Little Inferno. Am I the only person who spent half the game staring at the weird face on the back wall, convinced that it was opening its eyes and watching me when I wasn’t paying attention? You thought that, too, right?

Because it’s not paranoia if they’re… it’s just NOT PARANOIA!!!

We have to go through information security training every year at the office. We haven’t had a class about sexual harassment or diversity in almost a decade, but whatevs, right? Sigh.

The training is truly terrible. You basically watch a video, then answer a bunch of questions about it. Then you watch another video, and answer a bunch of questions about it. Then you… get my point. This year, there were 16 videos.

Between this year and last, they got a new vendor, so the videos were different. Regardless, they always have the exact same information every year. My boss always asks if I learned anything afterward, so I make a point of remembering something that I learned. Because there’s always something.

For example, last year I learned that cybercriminals wear ski masks while sitting at their keyboards. No, really. The video showed me. (Duh. That’s how you know they’re criminals.) This year, we learned that they now wear glasses with opaque red lenses over their masks.

The year before, I learned that when a scammer calls you on the phone, your phone turns red and glows. Which is handy, I must admit. But it makes me wonder why people would actually answer those calls, because apparently, they do.

This year, I learned that cloud servers are round and white. Did you know that? They also literally sit on top of clouds. Round white servers on white fluffy clouds. It’s kind of inspiring.

But seriously, folks, malware and phishing and all that jazz is a thing, but that other thing everyone warns you about is also a thing. Posting too much info about yourself online is a bad idea. Like that last section up there. Based on that last section, you know that the spousal unit is going on a trip. If they know who I am and where I live, criminal types might see it as an opportunity.

Which is why I wrote that bit a while ago, when the conversation actually happened, and then posted it after the fact. Tell the story, obfuscate the timing. Blogs are inherently “now” kinds of things, but it’s a good idea to be at least a little paranoid. You just never know.

First time I saw this in Skyrim, I went a little nuts. “WHO ARE YOU? HUH? WHAT DO YOU WANT? I’M RIGHT HERE! COME GET ME!”

Speaking of paranoia… things I learned from my mother.

My mother is the most strangely logical paranoid I’ve ever met. Or maybe I just mean that she uses strange logic.

For example, she never once talked to me about stranger danger when I was a kid. No warnings about strangers and candy, or strangers and cars, or strangers and puppies. Apparently, that falls under the category of, “If you’re so stupid that you have to be warned about these things, we really don’t want you anymore, anyway.” Or maybe she just figured the schools had that covered, so she’d focus on the stuff they weren‘t telling me.

She had a few things that she harped on repeatedly, though.

Never leave your garage door open and unattended.
There’s actually a fun little story to go with this one. We lived in Kansas for a while, and one of the neighbors loved to make fun of my mother for all her little rules, especially this one. He’d tease her about it and boast about how safe the neighborhood was… right up until the time he left his garage door open, went inside the house, and someone backed a truck into his driveway and stole everything that wasn’t nailed down. True story. My mother was way too polite to rub it in… but I know that somewhere, deep inside, she was screaming, “I TOLD YOU SO!”

Always remember to lock your car doors, if the car doesn’t lock them for you.
I’ve owned a string of cars that didn’t lock themselves, and I had a bit of a mental block about this one. When I was out somewhere and getting into the car to go home, I’d remember. When I was leaving home, I’d often forget. Then I was playing Saints Row 2 one day, and the Boss, during a carjacking, said something along the lines of, “Why don’t you people ever learn to lock your doors?!” I never forgot again. (See? You can learn things from video games.)

Always close the blinds in the direction that will make it harder for people to see inside.
This was the one we joked about all the time. According to mom, you close them so that they point up on the ground floor, and down on upper floors. Except not always. You have to take into account how high the window is, where someone can stand and try to look in, etc. etc. My brother loved to give her crap about it. “What if they’re in a spy plane? What if they’re on the second floor of the house behind you, and they’re using binoculars? What if they’re using a satellite? Or they have heat-vision goggles?” (Apparently, my brother thought that we might be targeted by supervillians.)

Of course, if you Google it, you’ll see that this is actually a thing, and she was right. But she was telling us this stuff long before the internet existed. (Did you know that there was a before the internet? And there are people alive who still remember before the internet?) We made fun of her mercilessly (still do), but I’ll be damned if I don’t walk around the house yelling at people that they closed the blinds the wrong way. So now, everyone makes fun of me. That’s called the circle of life. Or something.

Always lock the doors and windows, even when you’re home.
This is one of mom’s rules that I embraced without much effort, and it’s a neverending battle at my house. The spousal unit grew up rural, so getting him to lock the damn doors (or just not leave the front door STANDING OPEN FOR NO APPARENT REASON) has been a bit of a struggle. He’s gotten much better about it, though I know that he hasn’t actually seen the light. It’s just easier to lock the doors than it is to deal with me freaking out over it.

The alarming thing is that along the way, I learned to react to every knock on the front door like it’s an attack. Someone knocks on the door, and I immediately go into fight or flight. Thing 1 and Thing 2 obviously picked up on this when they were little. They would go into guerilla mode, sneaking underneath the windows and peering through the blinds without disturbing them, then report back in commando whispers. “It’s a guy in a black suit with a pamphlet! Stay down, STAY DOWN!!!”

It’s nice to know families are still passing on traditions, amirite? It starts with making fun, and ends with barricades and thumbscrew locks on all the windows. If they don’t know it yet, they will eventually.

Don’t eat peanuts, because one day, they might suddenly kill you.
No, I’m not joking. Neither was she. For years, my mother would send me a check for my birthday (and later, for the kids’ birthdays), and it would come in an envelope with an article clipped from a newspaper folded around it. The article was always about some poor person who’d never shown any signs of being allergic to peanuts… and then ate one more peanut and died. With all the things on the planet to be completely batshit paranoid about… killer bees, acid rain, global warming, nuclear war… her single greatest obsession is the evil ninja peanut that will someday kill you without warning. I mean, yes, it happens… but what are the odds?

You should note that you’re actually getting two tips for the price of once, here. Mom tip #3748: If you have to send a check through the mail, you should always wrap a piece of paper around it and make certain that you can’t tell that there’s a check inside if you hold the envelope up to the light. This also means never sending checks in envelopes that obviously contain a greeting card. She would literally send a birthday or Christmas card with nothing but a card inside, and then send the check separately — on a different day — in a plain envelope, with something wrapped around the check. (Don’t get me started on online money transfers — that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of killer bees. We pooled our money to get her a Roomba for Christmas a few years ago, but she focused on the fact that I’d used PayPal to send my share of the cost to my sister.)

(And yes, I do use separate email addresses for different accounts, to make it harder for anyone to… good grief, I just can’t stop…)

In the age of smartphones, it also means never sending text messages that would plainly tell people that you’re expecting a check in the mail. If she mails a check for the kids for Christmas, she’ll text me something like, “The crow flies at midnight.” Never the same code phrase twice, of course, and there’s no master codebook one can use to decode her messages. She just expects me to translate her spy-speak in my head. Which I can. Which is frightening. (I should also note that the phrase above has never been used. Her codes are never that obvious. And I’m too paranoid to tell you a real one. Do you see the slippery slope that we’re on???)

What about dad? Oddly, I only remember learning one thing from my dad.

I mean, I learned a lot of things from my dad. Things like, “If you don’t tie the bag full of dog poop tighter and make sure that the trashcan lid is on firmly… and it rains… you’re going to get your ass kicked.” Or things like, “You’re the oldest. That means nothing will ever be fair to you. Now go mow the lawn like I told you, and don’t whine about how your brother is old enough to take over ever again.” Or things like, “People get hit and killed by trains a lot more frequently than you think. And a lot of those times, their head comes right off.”

But the one real tip that I remember getting from my dad was to always put the bigger bills in the back and the smaller bills in the front of your wallet, so that when you open it, people can’t see the larger bills. Of course, he probably figured that my mother had everything else under control.

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