Froma Joselow was getting ready to bang out a newspaper story when the invisible intruder struck. Joselow, a financial reporter at the Providence Journal-Bulletin, had carefully slipped a disk holding six months' worth of notes and interviews into one of the newsroom computers when the machine's familiar whir was pierced by a sharp, high-pitched beep. Each time she tried to call a file to the screen, the warning DISK ERROR flashed instead. It was as if the contents of her floppy disk had vanished. "I got that sinking feeling," recalls Joselow. "Every writing project of mine was on that disk."
In the Journal-Bulletin's computer center, where Joselow took her troubled floppy, the detective work began immediately. Using a binary editor -- the computer equivalent of a high-powered magnifying glass -- Systems Engineer Peter Scheidler examined the disk's contents line by line. "What I saw wasn't pretty," says Scheidler. "It was garbage, a real mess." Looking for a way to salvage at least part of Joselow's work, he began peering into each of the disk's 360 concentric rings of data.
Suddenly he spotted something that gave him a chill. Buried near Sector 0, the disk's innermost circle, was evidence that the glitch that had swallowed six months of Joselow's professional life was not a glitch at all but a deliberate act of sabotage. There, standing out amid a stream of random letters and numbers, was the name and phone number of a Pakistani computer store and a message that read, in part: WELCOME TO THE DUNGEON . . . CONTACT US FOR VACCINATION.