View from the IT desk: A little more conversation, a little less action

Filed Under: Malware

Keyboard workers. Image from ShutterstockIn these times of increased news coverage, more and more people are waking up to the threats associated with viruses, malware and hacktivism.

All organisations have processes and procedures in place to deal with this type of incident (some more mature than others). Occasionally people can get it wrong leading to some headline-making data breaches or website defacements.

We live in an age where the threat of attack is so well known it features in news articles and television specials. Is it beneficial to IT departments to have users with such heightened awareness?

Put simply, yes this is always beneficial. Anything that stops a person from clicking an attachment because they think they may get to view something scandalous, or that internal document they aren't meant to see, can only be good.

Panic button. Image from Shutterstock

What these processes and procedures need is a second level of checking by IT helpdesk staff to ensure when the panic button is pressed it is done for the right reason.

Sometimes, taking a "step back and pause" before pressing the panic button can be the best policy.

Case in point is a recent "hacking attempt" or "virus". A person was experiencing some strange behaviour from their PC during routine daily tasks. These tasks are performed regularly and the process is easy to follow involving nothing more than copying and pasting between documents and spreadsheets.

Suddenly there was some unusual activity noticed, the Word documents began to "fill themselves in".

Random words were appearing which the end user was not typing. Which virus was this? Who was remotely accessing their PC?

These two questions prompted an immediate call to the service desk. When the words "virus" and "hacking" are used by end-users people start to reach for the panic button.

A quick conversation with the person in question established a few extra facts. Their previous work involved copying and pasting between documents and during this "A strange microphone icon was present which had not been seen before".

Would you have guessed what had happened?

Windows keyI'm sure all Windows users are aware of keyboard shortcuts, CTRL+c for copy and CTRL+v for paste.

But what if a user accidentally presses Windows+v instead of CTRL+v? This activates the computer's microphone.

I think you can see where this is leading..

The simple act of switching the microphone off prevented voice recognition technology from picking up chatter which was being inserted into the document, thus resolving the "virus" or "hacking attempt" and allowing the user to continue their work without problems.

How to turn on the microphone

But without the "step back and pause" the outcome could have resulted in a waste of resource to investigate and rebuild the PC, not to mention the inconvenience to the user when they would have no doubt been asked to change all passwords "Just in case".

Sometimes a little more conversation can result in the same resolution to an issue without the need to spend precious cash and resource investigating.

Keyboard workers image and red panic button, from ShutterStock

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11 Responses to View from the IT desk: A little more conversation, a little less action

  1. PedroStephano · 1253 days ago

    I disabled Trackpad once with FnF7. So frustrating, I wanted to take it back and throw it at supplier until I RTFM and fixed it.

  2. Kaz · 1253 days ago

    Once my touchpad seemed to be doing weird commands at random. Then I realised that the floaty cuffs on my blouse were occasionally wafting over the keyboard and it was sensitive enough to pick it up as a command. A lucky escape cos there's nothing worse than being a female technical consultant who has to call the helpdesk.........

    • Internaut · 1253 days ago

      Don't feel bad at being female asking for help. Imagine how long it would take for a male tech consultant who when lost, would never ask for directions. A female has the advantage.

  3. chipbuster · 1253 days ago

    "Don't just do something, stand there!"

    (And think, and consider the situation, and wait until you have a good picture before jumping in)

  4. Cynthia M · 1253 days ago

    Help me out here. I'm missing a step. Turning on the microphone caused Word to start typing random stuff because...

    Clearly, I'm not the IT person here. I catch on pretty quickly though.

    • carl blackett · 1252 days ago

      This was due to speech recognition being enabled on the PC and interacting with Microsoft office products.

      The reason the 'random' words were appearing is due to the speech recognition interpreting background noise and words and insterting them (sometimes incorrectly).

    • Nomphra · 1252 days ago

      The computer must've previously been configured with "speech recognition", thus turning on the microphone resulted in some spoken words being inserted to the document as they were recognised by the Windows speech recognition system.

  5. Internaut · 1253 days ago

    I run into similar such simple problems that at first glance look inundating. When it looks like a lot of time and resources must be considered, I as everyone to back up (themselves - not the stations), and think of what may have led up to the problem.
    I keep the panic button inside the desk drawer. I have the only access.
    It's articles like Carl's that remind us of just how simple something can really be, if we don't panic.

  6. Ron · 1253 days ago

    A coworker once asked for help with her Windows computer because only one recently installed program would run. To my surprise, she was right. One software package worked perfectly, but nothing else would run. The OS and its programs behaved normally, though, and scans for viruses and malware uncovered nothing. But yet, try to run any third party software and a dialog would popup saying the application could not be found, but yet browsing to it on the computer would reveal it was in fact there. By running them directly from the disk or by recreating their shortcuts, I was able to get some programs to run, but they did NOT behave in a normal manner whatsoever, some would even crash. After what seemed like a thousand questions about the system the new software, etc., I asked her if anything unusual happened during the install. Turns out that she changed the default install location (some folder in the root of the C: drive I believe), but the installer complained about the presence of a space character in the new install path, so she resolved the problem by renaming that folder to remove the space. That folder was "Program Files".

  7. Smiddey · 1253 days ago

    I once had a client complaining about their mouse cursor moving by itself and clicking on random objects. They ran around telling everyone in the office their computer had been hacked. Turned out to be a user with an identical cordless mouse in the cubicle next to them which had taken control.

  8. David · 1248 days ago

    Wonder if I can use this to get my lyric sheets completed from karaoke sites.

    On a security note I remember an incident an a well known insurer where the then Security Manager called me in because he had a weird bleeping sound coming from the computer and given his position he was worried about admitting to having a virus on his machine. A quck check around I lifted his keyboard and I found one of those musical cards whose battery had nearly run down. There was no way I was gong to sworn to secrecy on that one.


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About the author

Carl Blackett is Norfolk County Council’s ICT Security Architect working across both the corporate and schools environments. Carl has over 15 years ICT experience and is responsible for ICT Security within Norfolk County Council, has previously worked for several blue chip companies and has significant expertise in the introduction of multiple security devices and products. Carl’s recent work has achieved Public Services Network (PSN) compliance for Norfolk County Council delivering part of the council’s new ICT Strategy .