A little more about me

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One Monumental Life Event Led to My Desire to Create Blogs Designed to Help Other People Learn From My Mistakes Experiences

Me headshotI still feel that in many ways I’m relatively new to the online world of websites and blogs.

My story began as my years of being a stay-at-home mom were winding down, I was (inexplicably it seemed at the time) thrown head first into the tech side of things when my family’s home computer network was invaded (although actual knowledge of the invasion would come much later.)  At that time my family members and a new live-in houseguest were growing increasingly frustrated by a steady stream of bizarre computer occurrences. Each of us, including our newest house guest, experienced  random instances in which our computers displayed aberrant behavior…acts which appeared to freakishly occur of their own accord.

Worse yet was our frequent inability to even use our own network. This was a network I’d personally setup just a few years prior with the help of a good friend’s tech savvy  husband.

My role as a stay-at-home Mom afforded me a unique opportunity. I was the only one who had both the available time to figure things out as well as (a semblance) of the wherewithal. In the ’80’s I’d been pretty good with tech things when I first sold and then consulted* for clients on matters involving the healthcare industry and the computer system software responsible for running them (more specifically I specialized in outpatient administrative computer systems like scheduling and billing.) 

*At the pinnacle of my short consulting career I was widely regarded as one of the nations’ experts in outpatient billing and insurance processing systems, employed by one of the now extant ‘Big 8 Accounting FirmsCoopers & Lybrand. Accounting firms had only recently obtained the legal means to enter into the field of consulting…which likely explains my ‘expert’ status!

Faced with our present set of circumstances, I (somewhat begrudgingly at first) embarked upon a crash course to get up to speed…1st with current technology and then by learning as much as possible about networks, operating systems and computer security.

Our ‘Invasion Ordeal’ Persisted For 2 Years From Start to Finish

The main reason it took us so long was that the learning curve was huge! Just diagnosing the problem took almost a year and a half (despite the fact that we were assisted greatly by several network consultants and hardware technicians.)  There was even a significant learning curve involved for all the experts we employed. At that point in time (early 2009) it seemed that very few individuals had encountered similar phenomenon…although in hindsight we discovered this was far from true.**

What was true however and what set us apart from the pack was that we were aware of our invasion and able to actually document a lot of compelling evidence that decisively confirmed our final diagnosis…

A botnet had taken over our network and all the devices connected to it!

One more probable explanation for the long duration of time necessary to arrive at our conclusion was this:

Botnets by their very nature are designed to avoid detection.

That aspect cannot be emphasized enough. Millions of unknowing victims’ computers continue even in 2016 to perform the dirty work of hackers and criminals. What made our situation different was that we figured it out. There were 2 reasons that we were able to do that. First, our botnet’s activities got greedier overtime usurping more and more of our computers’ resources…this made our network and device outage problems constant. Second, a lot of botnet activity occurs during victims typical sleeping hours.

But ours was an atypical household in that regard. Our household was comprised of 2 teenaged boys who didn’t necessarily follow the traditional sleep-wake patterns of our society. I too had tendencies along those lines, although my penchant for late night computer sessions was also fed by the fact that most problems exhibited themselves during the early morning hours I should have been sleeping. In truth my actions were somewhat of the chicken versus egg variety. It’s not clear to me whether my late night tendencies resulted from all those hours that I spent trying to catch and document instances of aberrant computer behavior…or if the reverse held true and I happened upon the all the aberrant behavior because I was up and awake and trying to use computers that were supposed to be performing their zombie work instead during that time.

Once we discovered the reason behind our previously inexplicable ability to use our own network, as well as we’re able to explain why we had frequent encounters with truly bizarre events ranging from things like the sounds of television shows emanating loudly from sleeping computers to continual hacking of our credit cards and other personal data…

It took us another 6 months to rid ourselves of the botnet completely.

**As we learned more about botnets we realized that we weren’t all that unique in falling prey to one…but because botnets try very hard to remain undetected…most do go unnoticed. Once detection occurs of course they risk losing those zombie-ized computers. If this occurs on a large-scale the botnet risks massive financial losses as their clients move their business elsewhere to more ‘successful’ botnets. Those too tend to be primarily run by other hackers. Known to many as ‘black hat’ hackers, the ‘for hire’ resources of botnets are used by nefarious characters to employ a myriad of destructive attacks against corporations and the general public. DDOS attacks which can bring even very large websites to their knees, or spam mills which grind out millions of emails daily. Those emails tend to be of 2 main types. They may be vicious phishing attacks with identity theft as its endgame, or they may be trojans that work to enslave that victim’s computer into that same or another similar botnet.

The ‘A Little More About Me Part’

I’m not oblivious to the fact that my story doesn’t really sound like a very big deal while reading about it after the fact. But for almost that entire 2 year timeframe my heart, body, soul and mind were completely engrossed in just this one thing!  I was clearly operating within the bounds of a significant form of tunnel vision.

I couldn’t seem to break free from this role as I was obsessively driven to find and get rid of what seemed to me at that time had become the biggest threat that my family had ever faced. The whole experience greatly impacted my family too and the course of all our lives. While it was truly a frightening and devastating experience for each and every family member, I was the one person who experienced this prolonged event so profoundly that it quite literally changed my life from that point on.

I’ll hopefully write more about the intricacies of our invasions by this botnet (which I now believe to have been the Bredolab botnet discussed in this relatively recent Wired article) as well as botnets in general and how they’ve evolved into their present form in 2016…but not here and not right now.

My Transition into Writing My 2 Main Blogs

I first began to write about technology specifically because of that experience. I hoped that I could help other people who’d had similar problems.

Thankfully, those early writings are no longer readily available! I say ‘thankfully’ because writing for an online audience is really much different than any other form of writing I’ve encountered. Once I finally grasped that concept I was bound and determined to tackle that learning curve too.

My first true solo effort is also my first blog (although I went into it thinking I’d create a website, not a blog, on WordPress.com.  It’s called vsatips, because ‘vsa’ are my initials and I liked the way it sounded.

vsatips is dedicated to helping others who use similar technologies accomplish little tasks that prove to be difficult at first glance. My main devices are primarily Apple mobile ones and Windows’ computers. Although I also dabble in Android a bit too as well as Mac computers…and we recently acquired a 3D printer which I’d love to begin writing about but just haven’t found the time for yet.

About a year after I began vsatips I realized that there are a lot of non-tech subjects that I like to write about too!  Which is why, after a lot of careful consideration, I decided to create a different site for my favorite non-tech subject matter. I decided to call this one vsatrends.

My original intent with vsatrends was to focus exclusively on topics I love that have a strong design element. Those topics include fashion and everything related to it, interior design, architecture, landscape design, jewelry design and DIY silversmith concepts…you get the main idea right?

But, of course, in practice I’m much to practical for that idealized approach. So for now at least, my posts have taken on much more of the same tone as those at vsatip.  Essentially I’ve ended up writing a few ‘How to’ articles which have less to do with aesthetics and more to do with the mechanics of accomplishing tasks.

In watching how this all unfolds, I guess I feel that if my type of ‘how to’ approach brings value to readers, then I’m OK with that approach. So, how do I decide which site to publish a given post on then?  Well, vsatips has evolved into focusing on several broad categories of technology that I use a lot including, Evernote, Dashlane Password Manager, Apple mobile devices including hardware specific, ios specific, apps and accessories, digital data security, learning to blog, YouTube, and general information about computers and tablets. If I encounter and decide to write about something  outside of these topics I may post it on vsatrends instead. Or if the subject seems to have a wider general appeal than just those which fall within my smaller niche topics. Last, if the topic is focused more on the design part of the equation rather than the functionality aspect I may decide that my vsatrends readers may be a better audience for it. Although, there is definite overlap amongst my core readers for both sites too.

In the end, vsatrends was and continues to be a little bit of an experiment too. One that I’m not sure will stand the test of time, since I’m already recognizing that the sheer workload of keeping up 2 active blog sites may be more than I bargained for. It will be interesting to see how my experiment evolves with time.

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