That Time I Hacked My Own Gmail Account

Preface: Because this post deals with a topic for which I don’t really have pictures, I decided to spice it up with photos of animals.

For years, all I have wanted is an email address that is [firstname][lastname]@gmail.com (or my own domain, but I’ve been too lazy to set that up).

You see, back on September 4, 2004, when I created my first Gmail account (when Gmail was still in beta testing and you had to be invited, because I’m so 1337), we still believed in internet anonymity. Most people were not using the [firstname][lastname] convention; most were simply migrating over their old AOL/AIM handles. However, having created my meowzer18 AOL screen-name at age 8, I couldn’t possibly keep that dream alive as a 17-year-old. I settled for my name and a random number, and thus my first Gmail account was born.

But as times changed, we collectively decided that we wanted to be able to be found on the web. As social media crept into our lives, we wanted our friends to find us (and be able to tag us appropriately in an inappropriate amount of questionably appropriate photos, duh!), and as email became more important to our job searches, we began creating email addresses that reflected our real names. (And though we’re slowly starting to desire a bit of anonymity again, most people maintain a [firstname][lastname] email address for professional purposes.)

Of course, when I finally saw the need for a more professional email address, the other Carly Roaches of the world had already taken carlyroach@gmail.com. I created a few variations of my first and last names just to have something more serious to use on job applications, but everything I came up with required a number to be unique — something that I detested. Having a number in your email address had gone out of fashion. No one takes you seriously if you are jonsnow1@gmail.com. It looks like you weren’t forward-thinking enough to jump on the email train early and ensure your rightful [firstname][lastname] address. Sure, I could have gone to Yahoo or AOL or Hotmail, but everyone knows that your email address domain reflects your computer skills, and I couldn’t risk looking like a n00b.

I knew my only option was marriage.

Dobby, Peanut, and their cousin Arya

Embarrassing as it is to admit, I was so driven by my desire for a [firstname][lastname] email address that I created a new email address every time I dated a guy who might be “the one.” Let’s just say I have many an abandoned email address based on past, unsuccessful relationships. Sensing a pattern (date guy + make email address = get dumped), and also knowing that no one in the entire world would ever be named Carly Hublou, I put off creating an email address when I met Kevin until we were engaged, reasoning, as most sports fans do, that something irrelevant that I was doing was affecting the outcome of my relationships. (It doesn’t matter if you wear your lucky socks, sports fanatics; you do not affect the outcome of the game!) I didn’t want to jinx this relationship with my unlucky email-address-making!

I say all that to make my point: I saw carlyhublou@gmail as something I had earned and something that I needed. Changing my name was so much more exciting knowing that I would finally enter the ranks of those with the [firstname][lastname] email-address scheme that I had coveted for so long (11 years, to be exact). I would do anything to protect it, and I would be devastated if I lost it.

Fast forward to June 2, 2016.

In addition to my original and married-name email addresses, I have many other Gmail addresses (because reasons). But I don’t check them all; that would be crazy. I stay signed in to my main account and simply have all of my other addresses forward the mail they receive to the inbox of that main account. Usually, I also tell Gmail to delete all copies of incoming emails from the other accounts after it forwards them to my main account. This way, I’ll never reach my storage limit on these accounts that I never check.

But on June 2, as I was doing some maintenance on my beloved carlyhublou account, I noticed that Gmail had not been deleting the emails in this inbox. I had thousands of emails taking up quite a bit of space. I checked my settings, fixed the problem, and decided to delete everything in my inbox to save space and because I had copies of it all in my main inbox.

Hindsight is 20/20, but looking back, this was a very stupid thing to do.

Here’s a hawk that lands in my backyard sometimes. Probably large enough to carry away Dobby.

Why?

Because Google thought I was a hacker.

It’s not uncommon for hackers to steal users’ accounts, immediately change the password and set up two-factor authentication to keep the rightful user out, and then do asinine things like delete all the emails from an inbox (perhaps after gathering whatever information they may have wanted from your emails).

So when Google saw that thousands of emails had been deleted in a matter of seconds, it disabled my account.

Not locked. Not suspended. Disabled.

“No big deal,” I thought. “I’ll just walk through the recovery process.”

But to recover a Google/Gmail account, you have to be able to verify your identity to a computer — a computer that you can’t plead with or reason with. It knows what answers it needs, and if you don’t provide them exactly as it is expecting to receive them, you’re simply not the owner of that account. To recover a disabled account, you need:

  • The last password you remember having for the compromised account.
  • The date of the last time you were able to log in.
  • The date when you created your account.
  • Five frequent contacts (and these should be contacts to whom you’ve sent mail and from whom you’ve received mail).
  • Four labels you created (not the defaults).
  • Knowledge of all of the other Google services this account has used (e.g., Google Calendar, YouTube).

And you have to match precisely what the computer expects as input. No wiggle room.

Providing this information was problematic for me. Because carlyhublou is an email address that I don’t use via its actual inbox (I receive and send emails for it through my main Gmail account), I never created labels for it, I never used other services with it, and I had never technically contacted anyone with it. (Sending email as carlyhublou via my main Gmail account adds those recipients to the frequently contacted list for my main account, not for carlyhublou.) Despite submitting the form at least 20 times, the computer didn’t believe I was me.

“That’s OK,” I thought. “I’ll call Google’s help desk.”

EXCEPT THERE IS NO GOOGLE HELP DESK.

That’s right; one of (if not the) biggest tech company in the world has no user support (unless you are a Google Apps paid user). I even called Google’s main number, listened carefully  (as their menu options had changed), and found myself listening to an automated man telling me that I can only unlock my Gmail account by completing the account-recovery process.

Now, I understand. Google has millions of users. It’s not probable to staff a help desk to support a user base of this magnitude. Google’s solution is to provide an internet help forum, which is moderated by non-Google-employees who have somehow risen through the ranks of the forum to achieve the status of super loser user. They answer questions and also have access to Google employees if they can’t solve the problems themselves.

The very best friends.

But if you read through the Gmail forum, you’ll see that most users post to complain about the same problem I was having: their accounts got disabled for one reason or another and the account-recovery process isn’t working. Most times, there is no help for these people; they are told their accounts are lost forever, or they are provided a link to a blog that someone created to walk others through the recovery process.

Those are the only options.

(Dear Googs: If that many users are experiencing the same problem with your only option to recover their accounts, perhaps the process for recovering accounts is flawed. Love, Carly, beta tester circa 2004)

Think about it: What else in your life is that secure? Not even your credit-card account is that secure. You can recover a credit-card account by giving a human the last four of your Social Security number and the answers to a few not-so-difficult-to-hack-if-you’re-really-trying security challenges. That doesn’t even come close to the level of scrutiny programmed into Google’s account-recovery process.

Having exhausted my options, I called Kevin, nearly in tears.

Why was I in tears over an email address? Part of it was because I had waited so long to have this email address and now I might never have it again. Part of it was because this was the address through which most of my professional communications took place, and I did not want to have to send that email of shame: “My email address has been disabled and I cannot retrieve it. Please update your records with my new one.” (How embarrassing!)

And part of it was that I realized how much I relied on Google — on one company — just to function every day. Between Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive, a huge chunk of my life belongs in the Google suite of services. How uncanny it felt to have part of my internet identity so abruptly revoked and not be able to get it back. It was a partial glimpse into what life might be like if my real identity were to ever be stolen. I felt lost and helpless.

I called Kevin for emotional support. As he listened to me describe the day’s events to him, he gawked at the ridiculousness of Google’s user help solution. And then from his mouth — er, the phone speaker — poured the most beautiful, romantic words he’s ever uttered to me: “I’ll call Google directly.”

Kevin will be upset if I end this post without a picture of his beloved bird.

To make a long saga shorter, Kevin used a little wizardry (i.e., his sys-admin powers) to find a human at Google and alohomora my account.

As the dark skies over my first-world problems cleared, I felt eternally grateful for all the wonderful things in my cyber life, like Google Play Music curated playlists, the fact that I can add 2GB of storage to my Google Drive each year by completing a security check, and how Gmail adds events to my Google calendar when it senses dates in emails. Google had treated me like a boyfriend who says, “I want to take a break,” and then decides that he really does want to be with me after all (which is never how that story actually goes, by the way), and I felt no shame in running back to its login page.

After the makeup, I got down to business. Google had Scrooged me, and it was time to make sure this never happened again. So, for all of my Google accounts, I made sure I could answer all of those bullet-point criteria I listed above. I created four labels, found the dates the accounts had been created, turned on two-step verification, sent emails to my other accounts so that I would have frequent contacts, etc.

And then I slept soundly that night knowing I wasn’t stuck in another super-depressing episode of Black Mirror.

Dobby in the Sky with Diamonds

The other evening, when I arrived home, Peanut and Dobby seemed normal. Both dogs were happy and eager to go outside, and they very obediently performed several tricks for treats. I settled down with a book, waiting for Kevin to arrive home. After 10 minutes or so, Dobby left my side to stand in the corner of the room. His back to me, he began making heaving noises.

Now, Dobby has what I call an iron stomach. This dog is like a goat. He eats everything and never, ever has a bad reaction. Peanut, on the other hand, has a very sensitive stomach, the balance of which can be thrown off by simply breathing too much air.

Dobby on adoption day.

So when I heard Dobby making the tell-tale regurgitation noises, I was surprised, and I ran to his side to hold him as he vomited up his breakfast, his treats, and a ton of dark, medium-sized seeds.

Weird, I thought. Dobby was only outside for about 10 minutes, certainly not enough time to ingest the amount of seeds that I just saw leave his tiny body.

After that, everything was fine for about an hour, but then Dobby began to change. His eyes grew wider, like he was in a constant state of surprise. His whole body twitched every now and then, and sometimes he would shake like he was cold. He walked strangely, like each movement was a huge strain, and his back legs extended out further than usual. Mostly, he would stare into space, his breathing pattern a strange requiem of quick, loud inhales followed by inaudible exhales.

My dog is going to die, I thought. But I resisted the urge to take him to the emergency vet because A) it is extremely expensive, and B) he clearly had eaten something bad but had already barfed up most of it, meaning there was probably nothing left in his system to harm him and nothing that an expensive emergency vet could really do to help. He was just going to have to endure.

Of course, Peanut, being a bigger jerk than usual, took advantage of Dobby’s deranged state by tormenting him. She pawed at him trying to get him to play, growled at him in consternation, and even used her teeth to attempt to drag her blanket out from under him when he plopped down on it, much like a magician attempting to remove a tablecloth from a dining table. Dobby, meanwhile, ignored all of her advances, as if Peanut were not even part of his world, and for the rest of the night, he simply sat and stared.

The next morning, Dobby seemed back to normal, though slightly sluggish. Outside, I checked his morning deposit for any sign of seeds but saw none. I began the hunt for the mystery seeds, relieved that my dog had survived the night.

I checked the bag of wild bird seed, and it was clipped tight. I checked Cheepy’s seeds, even though I knew the mystery seeds were not in his mixture (which Dobby sneaks bites out of all the time).

Then, it dawned on me. I had failed to check the one place that only Dobby goes: under the bed.

Dobby has shown an affinity for being underneath things since the day we adopted him. He frequently seeks shelter under our bed to escape Peanut or have some alone time. We often find him half in, half out: his head and front legs under the bed, his butt and hind legs sticking out flat behind him.

And I know that he hides things under there.

Energized by my epiphany, I grabbed a flashlight, lifted the bed skirt (“WHY DO WE NEED THIS?” roars Kevin every time we make the bed), and nearly collapsed with laughter at what I found.

There was an empty, cardboard bullet box (chewed to pieces), which had fallen from Kevin’s nightstand at some point. There were no less than three open condoms, some still in the wrapper, some strewn about, their packages torn to shreds. (These came from Kevin’s survival backpack, which we keep in another room. Only Kevin would think to practice safe sex during the zombie apocalypse.)

I made this picture of Peanut a while ago and now it’s finally (somewhat) relevant.

And then there were the seeds, lying in a pile next to the empty plastic bag from which they came. I retrieved the bag: morning-glory seeds!

Kevin originally purchased the seeds back in February, just after we had a huge tree cut down. The tree cutters had left a 7-foot stump, claiming they couldn’t cut any lower because of our fence. Puzzled over what to do with this ugly stump, Kevin thought it would be visually appealing to plant some morning-glory vines. Indeed, the stump is beautiful now: the vines climbed the entire stump (and the tree canopy above) and produced an abundance of royal purple flowers that bloom every morning.

And while morning-glory seeds do spawn beautiful flowers, they also produce psychedelic effects if ingested.

Unbeknownst to us, Dobby had found the seed package, dragged it to the depths of his under-the-bed lair, and ingested nearly all of its contents.

Though I felt horrible, I could not stop laughing at my discovery. Dobby certainly had his vices: condoms, bullets, and psychedelic drugs. I can only imagine what Dobby’s trip was like, and I hope that he at least had a good one.

“Maybe he finally saw in color,” my friend Chris suggested.

(For the record, Dobby is back to normal, suggesting that there were no long-term effects of his wild night.)

Double-Dog Dare

As you may have gathered from previous posts, my family is rather…strange. One of our favorite hobbies (though neither my sister nor I will admit it) is making up silly songs to describe what’s happening and singing them over and over until the men in the family can’t take it anymore. Many have told me how amazing (or did they say annoying…?) it is that I can make a song out of anything. It’s true, and it’s a skill I get from my mother, who in turn gets it from her mother.

My mother also enjoys forcing people to join her in song and dance by locking them in vehicles until they sing along with her.

One afternoon during my high school years, as my mother was driving me to my part-time job, she witnessed another driver making an illegal maneuver. At the time, her car’s dashboard was decorated with a stuffed-animal eagle dressed as a mail carrier—a gift from USPS for my mom’s hard work and years of service. And so, armed with the rage of a woman scorned on the road, and also having in her viewing range this stuffed eagle, my mother coined a phrase that still comes up in our household: illegal eagle.

eagle

This is what the “illegal eagle” looked like.

But you don’t just say “illegal eagle” when you see something illegal happening. Rather, you repeat it five to ten times in a monotone voice, sort of like a robot. It can also be shouted if you are especially excited.

So, on this day that shall live in infamy as the day my mother coined “illegal eagle,” she ditched her scorn for sheer excitement over her discovery. An onlooker might have thought she had just written the next great opera. She would not stop chanting “illegal eagle.” What’s worse is that she insisted that I join in.

“Come on, just say it!” she pleaded.

“No. It’s stupid!” And it was. It really, really was. Also, I was 15, so I was in that “must-always-disagree-with-authority” phase.

“Just say it once. ONCE!” If nothing else, my mother is persistent. But I decided to be just as stubborn and not say the phrase.

At this point we had pulled up to my job and it was time for me to get out. Just as I reached for the door handle (my saving grace from this ridiculous situation), my mother perma-locked the doors with that handy “child-lock” button equipped on newer cars. (Even as an adult, I find it very insulting when I can’t open the “child-locked” doors and/or windows.)

I glanced back at her, shocked. With the most triumphant look on her face, she said calmly, “You have to say it before you get out of the car.”

You have got to be kidding me.

“Mom, I’m going to be late!”

“JUST SAY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Fine.”

And I said it. But just once.

“No, you have to do it multiple times in a row.” Always the trickster, she had roped me in for more than we bargained for.

“ILLEGAL EAGLE. ILLEGAL EAGLE. ILLEGAL EAGLE!!!!!!!!!” I screamed.

And then we both burst out laughing, because it is really fun to say, especially when you say it the recommended five to ten times.

In the same vein, last Thanksgiving, my mother, sister, and I made up the following song. I don’t remember who or what started it, but the lyrics are:

Double-dog dare
Double-dog dare
Can’t back down from a double-dog dare

There is a tune that goes with it too, but unfortunately I cannot convey it for you. (Be like a Roach girl and just make one up!)

So, for the longest time, I have been double-dog-daring Kevin to get a second dog.

I love Peanut. She is my best friend, my animal soul-mate, my spirit dog. We share an unbreakable bond, and she has been with me through some of my toughest life moments: breakups, long-distance relationships, etc. I truly feel that she is a part of me, and when I think about her ultimate exit from this world, I feel overwhelmed with emotion. (And don’t ask me why I put myself through this. I guess I’m trying to practice?) And I’m going to need another dog to help me through that emotion when the time comes (hopefully 7 or 8 years from now). Of course, Peanut is by no means an old dog, but I wanted her to have time to play with the new dog and love it and guide it.

After much prompting (and with the promise of free pet adoptions thanks to the Maddie’s Fund Pet Adoption Event), Kevin agreed to let me add a second dog to the mix, with the caveat that the new pup had to weight less than or equal to Peanut (which really isn’t fair because Peanut weighs a lot less than most dogs her size). To make a long, boring story (in which we stand in the adoption line for over an hour) short, we adopted Waldy (as named by the shelter), a Corgi/Rat Terrier mix.

Taken just after we finished the adoption paperwork.

Taken just after we finished the adoption paperwork.

After testing several names (Radar, for his crazy ears, Loki, because it’s cool, and Taco, because…well, I just love tacos), we settled on Dobby, because he looks like the Harry Potter house elf every reader has come to know and love. (But [SPOILER ALERT!!] hopefully Dobby won’t die trying to save us from Bellatrix Lestrange while we are disapparating from Malfoy Manor.)

I caught them in the middle of a moment...

I caught them in the middle of a moment…

The first few days were hard work. Peanut has been fully trained for a long time, and I forgot that dogs don’t come pre-wired for commands like sit, stay, come, and down. As can be expected, Dobby also felt the urge to mark his territory, dribbling pee in a few spots. (Thank goodness for our dark carpet and Nature’s Miracle!) But he learned quickly that pee goes outside, he has to sit to receive love, he has to lie on his bed during mealtimes, and he has to go in his crate at night. He also no longer whines when we leave the house; he knows that we will always return home…eventually. And while Dobby has had a few poo accidents, they always correlate to the times when Kevin is responsible for taking the dogs outside. (Kevin doesn’t have the patience to watch Dobby and make sure he stays outside until he poops, and then he acts surprised when Dobby poops inside. We have had zero pooping issues when the dogs are on my watch.)

Dobby basking in the sunlight.

Dobby basking in the sunlight.

The best part about Dobby is that he fills the cuddling void. Peanut has never been a very cuddly dog. Sure, she loves curl up near me and get belly rubs, but she always sleeps at the foot of the bed (her choice) or the other end of the couch. She’s very independent. While Dobby likes to do his own thing (as I write, he is sitting at the window barking his balls off at probably nothing outside), he also loves to curl up in my lap or near my hand (if it is placed near the floor) and just lie there for as long as I will let him. And he melts my heart when he stares lovingly into my eyes as I pat his little head. (I like to imagine that he has a deep voice with a Spanish accent. He is very suave.)

Biting each other's faces tenderly: a fun dog game.

Biting each other’s faces tenderly: a fun dog game.

He is really silly too. For the first few days, he did not understand that the full-length-mirror doors of the hallway closet were showing his reflection rather than another dog. He barked at himself for days until he figured it out. (He did the same with the sliding glass doors in our dining room when it was dark outside and he could see his reflection.) He also does this running slide move in our non-carpeted areas, where he tries to change direction quickly but can’t so he just slides to slow himself.

Big dog in a little bed.

Big dog in a little bed.

 

Peanut has been taking it pretty well. She plays rather aggressively, but Dobby is learning how to keep up with her. Peanut also likes to hide all the bones and steal all the toys. But Dobby is wily, and when Peanut steals his toys, he can be found circling the house with a giant Peanut toy somehow clasped in his jaws. Peanut is so jealous that she even has been found sleeping in Dobby’s bed (probably just because it was something new on the floor that she had to test) and trying to shove herself into his crate. (The first night we set up Dobby’s crate, Peanut weaseled herself into it, so we shut her in to show her that it’s really not Peanut-sized. I think she learned the lesson.) It’s easy to teach an old dog new tricks (Peanut has learned a few since Dobby came into the pack, like sitting quietly to wait for her food), but no one ever talks about how hard it is to teach an only-dog how to share with his/her new sibling.

(And, of course, as I’m writing all these wonderful things about him, Dobby chewed a tiny hole in the carpet…)