LOL Interwebz: I Just Found out That “Ransomware” Is a Thing, and That Seems Like a Good Excuse to Write Some Dystopian Sci-Fi
Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
In the year twenty-sixty-something…
You wake up, trying to piece together the night before, wondering why you can’t move your arms or legs. You’ve got a pounding headache, except—no, wait. That’s not your head. It’s the—that thing. The computer chip, the one in your brain.
Oh, yeah. That.
“We’re ransomware bandits. We take control, and then we take your data. And in the post-information age, EVERYTHING IS DATA.”You reach up to rub your throbbing temple—or you would, if you could move your hand. Instead you just form your face into a weird grimace that would easily make anyone who could see it uncomfortable. Fortunately you’re alone. At least, you think you are—until you hear the voice. The one speaking inside your head.
“Good morning,” it says. “How did you sleep? Good. Good. Well, anyway: we regret to inform you that your cybernetic body has been locked and rendered inaccessible to your similarly cybernetic brain. Sorry about that. But, hey, we all gots bills to pay.”
You grunt in frustration, cursing the day we all decided to become cyborgs that could feel neither pain nor love. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
“In any case,” the voice continues, “to regain control of your limbs and bodily functions, please remit payment of ten (10) Bitcoins by sundown.”
The voice punctuates this demand by forcing you to fart for a full seven minutes, just so you know they mean business. Then a virtual dialog box pops up in front of your cybernetic eyes, repeating the demand in text and asking for your Bitcoin wallet address. Oh, for the days of small, unmarked bills.
You’ve seen this happen before. “Ransomware” started small, back in the mid-’10s. First it was the police departments. Enterprising types would seize control of their data, encrypt it, and demand payment before releasing it. That was small potatoes, though—soon they moved up to hospitals, which they could hold hostage for tens of thousands of dollars. Then it was national governments, the U.N., the Galactic Federation (or whatever the heck you future-people call your Roddenberry-esque space utopia—Planets “R” Us, maybe?).
By then, of course, the Internet of Things was well off the ground. Everything up to and including our electric nose hair trimmers was connected to everything else, and we people were beginning to feel left out. We wanted to be Things! Or Internets! Or something! Anyway, wasn’t that what all the great dystopian sci-fi was about? If it wasn’t a great idea, people wouldn’t have been writing so many books about it!
But that was the problem with always being connected—you left yourself open. If everything was always connected, then everything was always open to attacks. It was one thing when they targeted the police stations. That was just your safety. And hospitals? That was just your health. But now…
If only. If only we’d known better. How could we have known technology wasn’t automatically good? It was shiny and expensive! It sure seemed good!
“Interesting thoughts you’re having there, sport,” says the disembodied head-voice. “Very clever of you to work the exposition into a flashback after the initial conflict is introduced. Yes, that’s right—we know you took Fiction Writing 101 for free at Sanders University.”
“It’s a perfectly respectable school!” you silently yell back.
“Yeah, sure. Go, Fighting Geoducks,” they respond, their voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Shut up!” you say. “They could go all the way this year!”
“Irregardless!” the voice yells, obliviousless to the nonworditute of the adjectverb. “Just how precious are those game day memories to you, kid?”
“BECAUSE YOU’RE ABOUT TO LOSE THEM.”
“Come on, man. We’re ransomware bandits. We take control, and then we take your data. And in the post-information age, EVERYTHING IS DATA. So say goodbye to that free education of yours, along with your cyberprom, your metagraduation, and your somehow-futurey wedding too!”
“Okay, fine! FINE!” you yell, desperate just to stop the psychological torture. “I’LL PAY! I’LL PAY!!!”
The voice laughs. “Good—but the price has just gone up—to ONE MILLION BITCOINS.”
You check the box, and you click “OK” with the digitized stud in your nose, as is the custom in future-times. You see the Bitcoins disappear from your balance in the upper-right corner of your virtual screen and are silently grateful that Bitcoins have been worth less than a billionth of a U.S. cent each ever since the Trump Wars collapsed global trade. And gradually the feeling returns to your fingers and toes.
You pry yourself from your bed, grateful to be alive. What a joy it is to be both body and soul, with memories and thoughts and flesh and blood all working in tandem. You crack your back, marveling that even such a tiny pleasure could be real. You make a mental note to get the firewall software in your brain updated—a note which gets filed away on a to-do list you fully intend to look at someday—and stroll into the bathroom for a shave.
But when you look into the mirror, all you see are popups.
“Honey!” you yell down the stairs to your RealDoll wife of 27 years. “The mirror got infected with adware again!”
She says nothing. Because you forgot to charge her battery again.