iStockphoto – Jan Rihak
Those of us who run websites and send out emails to thousands of people know that being on the Internet is sometimes a little like war. We live with the stark and unpleasant reality that there are hackers out there who are purposely creating programs to sabotage you and bring you to your knees. They hope to infect our site or our emails, and we know, on our side, that security is a top priority.
It is a strange mindset to have to adopt – that there are people out there who would delight in destroying you, and in turn, we have to make the adjustments that shore ourselves up against attack.
For more than nine years, Meridian has been on the web, infection free, until the end of last week – when we were hit by a malicious Trojan out of China that also infected hundreds of thousands of other English-speaking sites as well and brought down millions of pages on the Internet. It was not an individual specifically targeting Meridian, but was a SQL injection attack that crawled across the Internet looking for any vulnerable code, and pounced when it was found.
Apparently these Chinese groups are targeting American websites and use the information gained to write more powerful cyber attacks.
As soon as we discovered it, we had no choice but to shut down our site, and we were able to come online again Tuesday morning, May 27.
A Trojan is named for the famous story of the Trojan horse, a metaphor for a sneak attack. When the Greeks had besieged Troy for ten years without success, they feigned retreat, but left a huge wooden horse behind where 3,000 warriors were hidden. The unsuspecting Trojans opened the door and let the horse in, leaving themselves open to eventually being vanquished.
A computer Trojan is also a sneak attack. It finds a way into your system, usually through a back door that you might not even know was there. Here’s an analogy. Say you lived in a mansion with many wings and multiple floors that had thousands of doors and windows, each of which you keep permanently locked. To your eye, all is secure, but unbeknownst to you, someone has left an old key out under a rock and your enemy has a special key-seeking sensor that can find what you don’t even know exists to a door you didn’t know was there.
In our case, apparently the Trojan forced errors on our pages, which in turn makes them reveal their code, and of our many thousands of pages, it found one page that revealed not only its code, but a key in.
Once the Trojan has entered a site, the technical backend reads it as friendly and starts to follow its orders until every line of code is infected. Of course, we immediately cleaned our site, but within hours, it was infected again. What we had to do was search our database tables, row by row, table by table, looking for the page that was vulnerable to the Trojan, and opened the door into our site. This is a little like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Our hats are off to our technical team who arose to the occasion – Reed Hyde, who knows what 2:00 a.m. looks like; Carolyn Broadbent, who with a new baby was in the middle of a move, but dropped her own concerns to help Meridian; Truman Proctor, our son, who assisted; and a computer expert who is also a Meridian reader who wrote and volunteered his expertise, Vince Gambrill, from Ohio. Thanks to you all.
What has been profound for us as we have been in the midst of this direct attack is its parallels to the larger war we are all in for our souls against the attacks of the adversary.
Like the cyberwar for Internet security, this war is constant and unrelenting, while at the same time being largely invisible. The enemy of our souls devises new ways to attack us while we are busy looking at something else, and stealth is the tactic. He is busy, determined, and has an army at work with him, eroding our security, planning his attacks.
While the sun is shining and we are busy about our lives, the adversary and his minions work in the dark, assessing our vulnerabilities, often ones that are hidden from our sight, weaknesses that we cannot see or readily recognize.
Like the large house on the estate, we, too, have many entries, windows and doors, passageways and hidden attics, extra chimneys that have been thrown up. These may be our experiences, our disappointments, our incorrect perceptions, our weaknesses and strengths. Even though we think we have done all in our power to shore ourselves up against attack with our spiritual efforts, the adversary is practiced at finding these weak points and creeps darkly toward the key that is left under a rock outside in some far corner of our soul.
In his murkiness, he ceaselessly seeks entrance into our house and while we are mortal, we usually have some points of susceptibility.
The key may be left out accidentally. Maybe we didn’t know that the way we interpreted one of our life’s experiences left us vulnerable or that our emotions were not always Godly. Someone else may have left the key out. We may have been left with a door ajar because of the pain caused by another. Or worse, we may leave the key out ourselves, on purpose, allowing the enemy’s entrance, because we thought he was a friend.
That’s how a Trojan works. Once it is admitted, the website embraces the Trojan’s injection as if it were friendly instructions.
The Trojans of our souls inject some very familiar ideas that we then adopt as our own.
You may have heard this kind of instruction playing its tune in your mind. To our childish vulnerabilities we hear voices like this, “You deserved better.” “Nobody noticed your best efforts.” “Why don’t you ever get what you need?” or perhaps, “If God loved you this wouldn’t have happened.” “Why can’t you ever have what you want?”
To our pride, the Trojan says, “You are nothing if you can’t do it perfectly.” “You must win.” “Of course, you are right. Your ideas are the measure of all things.” “You must be seen as a highly competent and intelligent person.” “You can’t waste your time on something that doesn’t get you what you want.” “Your point of view is the only valid one here.” “Do they like you enough?”
Sometimes the Trojan plays off our dashed hopes or momentary discouragements. “Nothing you do ever works out.” “Everything you’ve worked for is going to fall to pieces around you.” “Failure is imminent.” “Nothing is fair.” “You can’t do that. It’s way too hard.”
Or the Trojan may play off a hidden resentment that is placed in our head and replayed again and again. This Trojan is especially effective if the resentment starts as a small noxious ember toward someone close to us about something small, and then is fanned to an awful heat. “Your spouse doesn’t understand you.” “Your child is a miserable disappointment.” “You can never forget what she did to you.”
I’ve placed these thoughts as if they were addressed to “you,” but many times they sound to us with our own familiar voice. Some of them sound like a whine and some a wail. It is “I deserve better” or “I never get what I want.”
These ideas can intrude and capture our entire system.
There is relief in the atonement and Christ not only cleanses our system, if we take his gift, he can also identify the backdoor that was left vulnerable to attack and where we left the key. We are grateful today for wonderful technical help that repaired Meridian, and for our Lord who has overcome in this larger war that has been waged since before this world was.