“She’s convinced that terrorists have compromised her computer,” Tom Davidson’s colleague – a front-line helpdesk technician – reported, “best I can tell, it’s some sort of virus problem, or something. It’s is a bit out of my league, but I’m hoping you can help.”

As a junior sysadmin for a mid-sized university, Tom found himself playing second-tier helpdesk support more often than not. He didn’t mind – it was certainly better than first-tier, after all – and he appreciated solving the unique problems that were escalated to him. The terrorist virus was definitely one such problem, and it was nothing he had heard of before.

He opened up the ticket the ticket report to see what sort of troubleshooting the technician was able to do.

* TICKET #APX-914321      *OPEN*          2001-05-13 *
*                                                    *
* ASSIGNED  : Tom Davidson                           *
* DEPT CODE : T2-SUP                                 *
* CUSTOMER  : Wendy G------                          *
* HARDWARE  : Standard Desktop D8-AM6                *
* RESOLUTION:                                        *
*                                                    *
*                                                    *
* __ ISSUE __                                        *
*                                                    *
*   The user reports that her computer may have been *
*   compromised by hackers or terrorists.            *
*                                                    *
* __ TROUBLESHOOTING __                              *
*                                                    *
*   #2001-05-13 9:33 AM #                            *
*   For the last few days, whenever she is using any *
*   Microsoft product -- Word, Outlook, even Excel - *
*   her screen will suddenly start filling up with   *
*   text. Most of it will be gibberish, but there    * 
*   are frequent references to guns and bombs and    *
*   terrorists. She believes it's a person and not a *
*   virus, as there are sometimes were weird ref-    *
*   erences to local news.                           *
*                                                    *
*   Her computer is currently turned off. Perhaps    *
*   sensibly, she will not turn anything on until a  *
*   technician physically disconnects it from the    *
*   network. I will visit ASAP.                      *
*                                                    *
*                                                    *
*   #2001-05-13 11:18 AM #                           *
*   When I arrived, the computer was still turned on *
*   but the monitor was turned off. She left open    *
*   Microsoft Word, and there was indeed lots of     *
*   gibberish on the screen. I shut down and ran a   *
*   full scan off boot. No problems reported. I      *
*   could not find any evidence of any problems, and *
*   the problem would not appear when I was there.   *
*                                                    *
*                                                    *
*   #2001-05-16 10:03 AM #                           *
*   The user called again, and said that the problem *
*   started happening again in Microsoft Excel. I    *
*   advised her to not touch a thing, and I headed   *
*   over immediately. I was able to observe the      *
*   problem first-hand. After disconnecting network, *
*   problem still occurred. I opened up Notepad, and *
*   noticed text continued to be entered. Most is    *
*   gibberish, but the intelligible text and words   *
*   implies that it's not bad keyboard, etc.         *
*                                                    *

Tom was intrigued. He called up the end user to say that he’d be over in just a bit. He wandered down to her office, one of those cozy professorial spaces packed tight with decades of accumulated unlabeled folders and empty tea tins, and tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to reproduce the problem. The soft instrumental music on the radio soothed him a bit, but he definitely was getting a little frustrated. She felt it, too, and practically shouted: “I’m not crazy! I don’t understand! Usually whenever I open anything, they start right up!”

And at that moment, the words appeared. “Stand, you silly. We never eye a penny thing they start. Dry up.”

The classical piece on the radio came to a conclusion, and the announcer let listeners know that they had been listening to Bach. So did Notepad, although it spelled it “Bock” and said something about the “fast circling wagons” instead of “last symphony”. and it otherwise did a pretty good job.

It took another couple of minutes to figure out how to turn off Speech Recognition, since it wasn’t a feature that Tom – or quite obviously the user – had knowingly used before.

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