Reflections on the Virus Attack
As our registered users know, the CatholicCulture.org web server was subjected to a virus attack, originating in China, on July 7th. Since that time, fighting off the attack and making our server secure again has occupied almost all of my time. The fact that I can write this article means the danger is past. But I learned some things from this—some technical things, some personal things, and some spiritual things.
There was a time in my life, after being a history professor up until 1985, that I became very proficient in computer technology and even programming—first so that I could inexpensively launch Trinity Communications as a publishing house using the new desktop techniques, and later so that I could move our Catholic information and services to the Internet. By 1996 we were well-established online, but had nothing like the audience with which we are currently blessed. So to make ends meet, I worked on the side as a computer consultant. Gradually I developed my own company, Trinity Consulting, which at its peak had fourteen employees, before failing in 2010 during the Great Slump.
Now, for some years between about 1992 and, say, 2003, I was learning more about computers and networking every day, and I was up to date on just about everything that mattered technically to a small company with an Internet presence. But then two things happened. First, I became a full-time administrator as the company grew, with specialists working under me in a rapidly changing field. Administrators can get very good at making things happen; but they lose their technological edge. It is hard to keep up without daily hands-on experience.
Second, and for this I thank God and our users with all my heart, the Catholic audience of CatholicCulture.org kept growing, and support for our Catholic work steadily increased. This led me back to my roots (in Catholic education). In the last few years before Trinity Consulting closed, I left running the company mostly to others, while I was able to spend almost all of my time on our non-profit Catholic work. I did not in the least mind losing my technological edge because of that, but it did grow duller and duller.
Now to be technologically specific for just two paragraphs, I should explain that for about the last five years our back-end web development and execution platform has been ColdFusion 8. During that time, two new versions have been released, but as they did not have compelling new features, we did not upgrade. What I missed along the way—what I would not have missed ten years ago when I had my edge, or even four years ago when I had my own team of professional technical staff to advise me—was that at a certain point the software manufacturer (Adobe) decided to stop “patching” ColdFusion 8 as new vulnerabilities to hackers were discovered.
This left us open to attacks that were impossible in ColdFusion 9 or the latest ColdFusion 10, because their vulnerabilities had been fixed as they were found. It was this weakness which opened the door to what we have just gone through. In my defense, I’ll mention that we no longer host our own websites. We deliberately teamed up with a major ColdFusion hosting service some years ago because I knew we couldn’t keep up with that side of things any longer. So I would have expected to have been told, point blank, by the hosting company that we could not stick with ColdFusion 8 when Adobe stopped patching it.
In other words, what I learned technologically (and for the umpteenth time), is that I cannot take anything for granted. I need more than one professional beating me over the head with this kind of information.
Personal and Spiritual
I learned something personal and even spiritual as well. Years ago, when I was a younger man with boundless energy, unbridled self-confidence, and stunted maturity, I invariably responded to a crisis by throwing myself into it without a moment’s rest, hitting it hard night and day until it yielded to my efforts. It would be too much to say that I neglected my primary responsibilities (you know, husband and father) to do this, but I sometimes made compromises I now regret. Too often, my version of relying on God was to rely on the gifts He had given me, which was to rely on myself.
This time around I was far more aware of my limitations. Sure, I worked harder than usual during these last two weeks, often twelve or fourteen hours a day. My kids are all grown up and gone. My wife will let me know if she needs me. But my attitude was different. I was more conscious of putting things in God’s hands. In the old days, I could not sleep at night if there was something I could be doing to address a significant problem. Now I can. I’m also far more willing to seek human help, and even to ask for prayers. Yes, I tire more easily than I did at 25, 35 or 45. But what I am referring to here is something more, and more important.
There is an old expression, “Work as if everything depends on you, and pray as if everything depends on God.” It has a point, even a useful point, but I don’t buy it. When I’ve worked as if everything depends on me, what I have found is that I tend to squeeze God out. But when I trust in God, when I truly understand that His Providence governs everything and that what he expects of me is merely fidelity, then I find I can work a reasonable amount, based on my abilities, my energies and my other obligations. And then I can let go.
I can let go because I have a far deeper sense that what I am letting go of was never “mine” in the first place. Certainly I need to behave responsibly; I need to do my best; but not because I somehow have a total grip on this thing, but because God has a total grip on it, and He has assigned me certain responsibilities. This is a lot like working with your father in a business when you’re young. Lots of things can go wrong, and you can work pretty hard trying to fix them. But in the end you know the buck stops with Dad.
Or to take another analogy from my childhood, whenever I would sleep in a strange place with my father nearby, I was never nervous if I heard noises in the night. But when he was gone and my kids were sleeping in a strange place with me, I was awakened by every sound, and sometimes I even found it hard to get to sleep because I was uncertain of the surroundings (especially sleeping outdoors, under the stars, in the woods). Not so the kids. They had me.
Well, I understand better with each passing year that, in the same sense that my kids had me, I have God.
Not only that, a huge number of those who use CatholicCulture.org have a clear sense of the same thing. The outpouring of prayers and other kinds of support has been a tremendous reinforcement, again both personally and spiritually. Indeed, I have learned not to doubt the efficacy of the prayers of our users, but it is an old lesson, and I did not need to learn it again. This time, I just depended on it, and it made things far easier. In the spiritual life, we call that growth.
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Posted by: spledant7672 -
Jul. 18, 2013 11:09 PM ET USA
Glory to God. Thank you for sharing this, Jeff.
Posted by: sswarmka7393 -
Jul. 18, 2013 7:59 PM ET USA
"When I’ve worked as if everything depends on me, what I have found is that I tend to squeeze God out. But when I trust in God, when I truly understand that His Providence governs everything and that what he expects of me is merely fidelity, then I find I can work a reasonable amount, based on my abilities, my energies and my other obligations. And then I can let go." Amen! Although working in "mere fidelity" can sometimes take a fair bit of effort...