Unsocial Security
Published: March 8th, 2017
By: Jim Mullen

I was having a hard time logging into my newspaper's web page, and finally got a tech person on the phone. After a little while, she asked if she could give me a new password.

Of course I said "yes," but I wondered why I needed a password at all. This wasn't my bank account, it was a newspaper subscription. Was somebody going to pretend to be me, log in and pay my bill? Please, let them. Then I realized, the password was for the newspaper's protection, not mine. They don't want someone reading it online for free. (You can still go down to the diner and read the print version for free, but that's another story.) But something tells me that no hacker would break into a newspaper to read the front page. They'd be looking to raid the paper's bank account. Sorry, can't help you there.

There have been a lot of stories about passwords and chip cards and ransomware and hackers in the news recently. Almost every minute of the day, you can find an expert on TV saying something like, "If you have a computer and it's hooked up to the internet, you've been hacked."

Experts are such a comfort.

Most people I know, even if they use computers at home and at the office, don't know enough about them to tinker with them or add basic security measures like a password manager program, two-step verification and a VPN. Which is why, when you call most companies' help lines, you're put on hold for half an hour. Because everyone with a computer is calling them, and the people smart enough to fix your problem don't want to spend all day talking to dummies like us. It's frustrating to be on either end of that phone conversation.

But here's the odd thing about hackers. If you're smart enough to hack into my computer, you're smart enough to get a real job. A job that pays more than hacking, has health care and retirement benefits, has a nice view of an office park and with little or no chance of being hauled off in handcuffs in the middle of the night by a multinational task force. You might even meet someone at the office that you can date and maybe, eventually have children with. You might make some friends. A highly unlikely scenario in the damp, smelly basement at Hacker Central where you work now, drinking highly caffeinated "energy drinks" and eating leftover pizza. Yes, you probably can't wear sweatpants at a real job and you'll have to pay taxes, but you'll be making a ton of money -- legally. That's gotta count for something.

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Being a hacker must be like being one of those painters who make fake Rembrandts that sell for millions of dollars. First of all, you don't make millions, your dealer does. And if you're that good, why not just paint your own stuff? OK, maybe it won't sell for millions of dollars, but it will sell for something. And even if it doesn't sell, you can brag about it. Bragging about your fake Rembrandts is pretty much a police raid waiting to happen.

The sad thing is that we enable hackers. Research shows that people hate remembering and changing their passwords. Which really isn't a big problem if all you're doing online is reading email from your grandchildren and posting pictures on Pinterest. Who cares if you get hacked? Sure, it's inconvenient, but you can get a new email account. The real problem is that the people who work at your credit card company, at your stockbroker's, at your bank, at your statehouse and in your local and federal government hate remembering and changing their passwords as much as you do.

But don't worry: They're all getting technical help the same way I do: from their 13-year-old neighbor kids.