I flew to Lucknow last Thursday morning and picked up the taxi to take me directly to the Eye Center where I had an appointment. Two hours later, eyes essentially all clear, and eyes dilated wide I stumbled my way out of the place to the taxi, to go to my friend’s house in Mahanagar. It was the first really bright, summery day of the season and it was torture to keep my eyes open. So, i was happy to reach the cool, darkened interiors of my friend’s house. A couple of hours later, I realized that i did not have my cell phone. And the last i remembered, was using it to call the taxi driver outside the Center. Although the staff there were very responsive to our calls (helped by the fact that the Boss was a friend), it could not be located. Since, I had a back up of most of the numbers on my iPad, i could keep essential communication going using the good old land line!!!
I printed out the scanned copy of my passport, which was on my computer and as soon as I landed back in Delhi on Saturday morning, headed from the airport to my local cell phone provider. And in less than 10 minutes, I had a duplicate SIM and I was assured that it would be activated in 4 hrs. Oh boy, the cell phone service providers really provide service!! So the SIM went into my daughter’s old BB – but for many hours it did not come to life. I was reassured by those around me that it often takes longer and so-and-so had to wait overnight etc… But the message ‘Please insert SIM card’ would not go away. The next morning, back i trudged to the provider (8 km away from where i live) and learnt that i had been given the wrong SIM. So much for the wonders of the services that had impressed me the day before – a new employee had just handed me a wrong SIM – a prepaid one instead of a post-paid one i believe. And ergo, as soon as it was replaced I was connected!!
And then, a day later all hell broke loose – my gmail account was hacked!! I had checked mail around 4 PM on Monday evening and at around 7 PM i started getting calls from friends. These were of 2 kinds. There were those who recognized the message going out from my mail ID as not being mine – language, knowing that i had not planned any holiday in Spain, and knowing that i would not be sending out general “HELP” messages to the world (actually to the my whole ‘Contacts’ list) if I needed money. The others were those who were genuinely concerned about my being stranded in Spain without money and wanting confirmation before sending it (thanks, guys). My daughter even gmail chatted with the abductor of my mail ID before realizing that there was something wrong! The phone kept ringing late into the night and much of the next day – plenty of advice, help, suggestions…..
In the meanwhile, I started to explore all the options for recapturing my abducted account!! And with some guidance from a bright young PhD student of one of my friends, and the fact that at some point I had entered an alternate email ID, I was able to communicate with Google. After a couple of hours of playing around, I was able to change the password and enter my account – and the account was zero. All the mails were deleted as was the contacts list. After another foray into the Google support world to try and restore these, I learnt that my mails (of probably last 5-6 years) were forever lost. But, the contacts list was restored – and some I am in touch with the world again.
So, a week later I can say “What a week that was!”. What are the take aways? That in all of the 72 hours there really was nothing that i could not deal with. It was a throw back to an earlier era, which we are forgetting, a times which were probably less stressed. On the other hand, if you ask me to give up the phone altogether – that would be another story. But, just as we take a work break, I think it would do us all good to take a cell-break form time to time. In fact i do know people who switch it off at night!!
Although I don’t know much about the business of hacking, I suspect that the abduction of the mail ID was probably linked to the loss of the phone, as my gmail was configured on it!. On loosing my phone, i called the service provider to block my number so that it is not misused. But, i never thought of changing my password and that is one lesson to be learnt. The ‘bright young student’ told me that if i had given my cell no. in the google securities, they would have SMSed me a password. So, this time i have entered all the security features – including one in which i will be SMSed a code to be entered every time I access mail from any other IP address (meaning, any other machine). So, be sure to make use of all the security features that are provided. Of course, this is not fool proof I know!! After all Julian Assange and co. could get into any system. As could Lisabeth Salander of the “Girl with the dragon tattoo” fame! But, I am sure that most of us are not important enough for that level of targetting. At least, I am sure I am not. But, it still amazes me that there are people out there who do this kind of thing for fun.
And finally, when i found that all my mails had been wiped out, did I panic? It was a reality check that there was nothing really of earthshaking consequence in all that amount of clogged megabytes (of course, all my work mails come to another ID). But, till i restored the contacts list, i was upset – since email has has become the only method of contact with most of the world and like most folks the address books (the paper kind) is not updated any more. The loss of the mails themselves? Well, it has given a mild sense of release from the past and I am looking forward to this opportunity to maintain trimmer and more organized Mailbox!!