More treasures from the world of corporate sharing

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Cyberterrorism at 5:22 pm by George Smith

Even stuff you did more than 20 years ago isn’t safe from corporate theft. If there is a way to steal labor, it will be done. Here then for your enjoyment, from the Morning Call, a piece I did as a free-lancer in 1992. The Call, which belonged to Times-Mirror, now Tribune, never had a contract with any free-lance writers.

Digital distribution didn’t exist in any form for it. Free-lance articles were never copied to the wire service from Allentown.

But this piece has existed in the Call archives for 22 years. And while the newspaper has no digital rights to it, that hasn’t stopped it from putting it on the web.

I’m taking it back today.

It’s Not That Tricky To Use The PC For April Fool’s Revenge

Dear Mr. Computer Dude:

My PC plays Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” every time I turn it on. I can’t find anything about this in the manual. Is it an undocumented feature?

— Puzzled

Has this ever happened to someone you know? Like, maybe around April 1?

Time to get even! If you have a PC and a double sawbuck to spare, you’re all set to try your hand at some electronic practical jokes and maybe learn a little about computer security in the process.

The sweetest way to get started on this April Fool’s revenge project is to let someone else provide the stoop labor. Just right for that purpose is a mall bookstore paperback called “Stupid PC Tricks” by Bob Levitus and Ed Tittel (Addison-Wesley; $19.95; 137 pp.). The book itself isn’t very helpful. However, the two floppy disks that come with it are — they contain the makings of a number of clever, cheap and, most important, user friendly practical jokes.

To start, the disks contain a program known as TRIP (as in drugs, not cruise).

Now, what you want to do to embarrass that goldbricking co-worker who’s always playing a favorite computer game when the shift supervisor’s not looking is this:

1. Take a disk that TRIP is on and insert it into your colleague’s work station PC floppy drive. Type A:, then .

2. Now, type TRIP 5.

3. Then type CLS to clear the PC monitor so there’s no evidence of your fiddling.

TRIP is a deeply aggravating trick which installs itself into a computer’s memory and alters the color of all letters on the TV screen in a random fashion at a rate predetermined by the number typed after TRIP.

TRIP is not destructive, but it is quite impossible for anyone to work at a PC with text characters pulsing queasily in different colors. And TRIP is easy to dismiss (but don’t tell any of the victims). Simply restarting the PC flushes TRIP from the system.

More devious and experienced users, perhaps your teen-age kid, for instance, will greatly appreciate TRIP’s potential when tied into a PC’s autoexec file (computer-ese for the routine the PC runs on start-up before it hands over control to the operator.) Heh-heh.

Anyway, executing your master TRIP plan has also neatly demonstrated how easy it is indeed to insert a real rogue program, like a virus, into most PCs. About 10 seconds’ worth of work, all told. This is a point that shouldn’t be overlooked in lieu of the recent hoo-haw over the Michelangelo virus.

A similar program supplied by the Stupid PC Tricks disks is MUTANT. MUTANT installs effortlessly and quickly like TRIP, but instead slowly goads the PC into generating a string of frankly disconcerting clicks and buzzes, including one sound that mimics the screech of a trapped squirrel. MUTANT’s thoughtful delayed activation ensures time for escape, thereby lessening professional risk, too.

One also gets two programs called FOOL and ANNOY which double as apoplexy-inducing pranks or low-level security applications.

FOOL is a bit more complex than TRIP or MUTANT. It consists of two files: the FOOL program and an insult/security database which FOOL refers to. FOOL is activated by typing FOOL and a percentage, i.e., FOOL 25 percent. When this is done, FOOL installs in memory and issues a work-blocking insult on roughly 25 percent of all typed commands.

A typical insult might be: “NAZI SWINE! I’LL NEVER TALK!” while the PC refuses to continue.

It’s easy to see how this alone could get out of hand. However, FOOL has an added feature. By typing the names of any program, for example WP for a word processor, in FOOL’s insult/security file, FOOL aborts the execution of the program.

This is a noxious, intrusive property which has a lot of application in low-level PC security. For example, corporate stiffs, er, administrators, who wish to prevent employees from running certain programs during off hours could easily install FOOL to block access to popular applications like spreadsheets or income-tax preparers.

Certain anti-virus programs work in the same manner. Although slightly more sophisticated than FOOL, once installed in memory they can intercept pre-determined potentially destructive commands which simple viruses, novice computer vandals or disgruntled employees might issue.

ANNOY is not as powerful as FOOL, but far more sneaky. ANNOY installs memory resident, like the more pestiferous computer viruses, and poses as a password security feature for common commands on IBM-compatible PCs. For example, when the user types DIR — the most common command — ANNOY annoyingly pops up and asks for the password. In reality, there is no password. However, the user is unlikely to know this. In addition, ANNOY secretly logs the command to a secret usage file, for convenient snooping later.

All these programs are harmless. However, keep in mind that some people, by nature, are tense and humorless. In these cases, you should be ready to step in with a remedy and judicious application of diplomatic balm.

Next week: Irreversibly encrypting your boss’ payroll file.

“I don’t think people are interested in computers,” Mr. J. Kelly, Assistant Managing Editor, The Morning Call, 1992

Ah, the amusements of MS and PC DOS. If you know the editor of the blog, you’ll know what else was being set to be delivered in the old Crypt Newsletter. (Careful now, it can’t hurt you. But your anti-virus program might not like it.)

There was so much more that could have been written. But it was a newspaper, there were certain sensibilities that were inviolate, and as one person said, readers weren’t interested in personal computers.


Comments are closed.