You know what? Everyone gets a virus now and then.

Emma McGowan 27 Oct 2023

We often discuss the proliferation and growing sophistication of scams and the tools scammers use. But here’s a reminder—everyone catches a bug once in a while.

I will never forget the first time I caught a digital bug. I was sitting at my desk at my company’s open-concept office in Chicago when I got an email from HR. It read: 
Company Policy Reminder: Please Review 
Following an incident in the Boston office, all U.S. employees are instructed to review pages 18-21 of The Employee Handbook regarding inter-office relationships. 

Please reach out to your office HR Lead should you have any questions. We appreciate your cooperation. 

Human Resources 


I didn’t even hesitate. Just what exactly happened in Boston? Was it maybe Jonathan and Sarah? I know they had a thing going on when I was there last, but I think he thought it was a lot more serious than she… and in my young bullet-proof naivety, I clicked on the link. 

A web browser opened out of my email and loaded a website. The entire screen turned white, and filled with giant lettering. 

you are an idiot  
😀 😀 😀

But that wasn’t the end of it. When I tried to close the window, the web browser opened a smaller window – only the size of a thumbnail, which then opened another window to the right, and another to the right, and it kept going, spawning all around the screen. Tiny windows were zipping across my laptop, each new window carrying the same message above. 

Then the sound came on—a choir of voices singing in harmony “You are an idiot! Haha ha ha ha haaaa” on infinite repeat. It was blasting out of my laptop speakers and caused everyone in the office to go quiet and stare at me. I slammed my laptop closed (which mercifully stopped the noise) and held my hands up as though I had just been caught in a bank robbery.  

The only solace came from somewhere across the room. The silence of shock was broken as someone else’s laptop suddenly erupted with the same song. “Haha ha ha ha haaa!” Our head of IT for the office walked into the room and yelled at us all, 

“Please delete that email from HR from this morning. If you already clicked on the link, bring your laptop to me now, please … Idiots.” 

I think he got another two before word got around. If you want to feel the pain, here is what I promise is a perfectly safe link to a video of that trojan: 

You’re not an idiot, it happens 

In that case, the original email (the depth of which was thankfully limited to a digital prank) originated from an IT worker in Boston. The prank was sent to them, they fell for it, and they thought it would be funny to send it to the whole company. These were early days. 

Of course, IT took the impact very seriously. They had just witnessed how fast a trojan could move through the network with a single email sent from inside the company. Put more specifically, they saw how one trojan could easily spread across multiple offices, sent from a single employee whose email could have been compromised. The message played on human curiosity (baiting), and the malware preyed on system insecurity (our browsers didn’t stop pop-ups by default at the time). 

And obviously it was worth studying since one of the company’s newest and brightest tech writers completely fell for it. 

Getting a virus is very much like getting the flu 

It really is something that can happen to anyone, no matter how careful you are. Just like you might pick up a bug during a crowded winter commute or a family gathering, you can stumble upon a digital virus while browsing the web or opening an email from a sender you thought you could trust. It's an unfortunate truth: the digital world, like our real world, has its own share of contagious nasties. 

Speaking of seasons, the flu really hits hard during certain times of the year, doesn't it? Well, digital viruses can also be more prolific at times. Cybercriminals often ramp up their efforts during the holiday season or during major global events, trying to catch unsuspecting victims off guard. It's very much akin to cold and flu season for your computer. 

Now, let’s say you catch a bug. How badly you get the flu can often depend on the precautions you've taken before it takes hold. Just as washing your hands, getting a flu shot, and staying warm can reduce your flu risk, using strong passwords, updating your software, and being cautious online can lower your chances of getting a digital virus. It's all about being proactive and taking steps to protect yourself. 

When you catch a virus, it’s not the end of the world 

Let's say you do catch the flu or, in the digital realm, you encounter a virus. The good news is that, just as you can nurse yourself back to health with plenty of rest, fluids, and maybe some chicken soup (#notmedicaladvice), there are steps you can take to cure your digital devices. Running antivirus software, disconnecting from the internet, and seeking help from tech-savvy friends or professionals can help you recover from a digital infection. 

So, whether it's the flu or a digital virus, remember that everyone's susceptible, but with a little knowledge and some preventive measures, and maybe some healthy skepticism about a really juicy email from HR, you can stay healthier and keep your digital world running smoothly. Stay safe out there! 

--> -->