The recent leaking of passwords from the networking site LinkedIn has highlighted a major problem concerning the security of online data.
It is not so much the fact that the passwords were taken in the first place, but that a majority of users tend to use the same password with minor variations for all their virtual logons. We do this primarily for convenience, because it’s frustrating when you forget a password for a site you use not as often as others. However, as the LinkedIn situation has proved, it only takes a small puncture of the security wall in one place to leave yourself totally vulnerable on the internet.
Hollywood learned this lesson the painful way. The hacker Chris Chaney, who infiltrated the e-mail accounts of top A-list stars and published nude pictures of Scarlett Johansson, was not a coding genius. All he did was Google what the likely passwords might be by looking at the past history of celebrities – e.g. what school they went to, their favourite colour etc. Through trial and error, he eventually made it in. It was that easy.
The truth is, what people think are cleverly formed passwords, are often not. Now that the LinkedIn accounts have been published online, it’s going to be pretty easy for a technologically astute criminal to dig up all the emails of those users, and begin hacking away to their heart’s content. (Indeed, in the age of the Leveson inquiry, it seems strangely fitting that non-famous people should feel so appalled at the possibility their personal data might be exposed – I’m sure Hugh Grant, who was lambasted when he tried to take on the media in the first place, is somewhere wagging a finger saying “Well now you know how it feels…now get outta heeeere”).
So how can we get round this problem? Well, I’m no expert, so I’m sorry if I’ve fooled you into reading this far, but I have come up with a few ideas that can help protect your security:
Flabdabbery; soningpuck; platasma; zingwok – these are all great words that the Oxford English Dictionary will now have to recognise as being in existence. That is because I have just this second invented them, and you have read them, and now they are in circulation within that vast sea of vocabulary known as the English Language. The point is a hacker is never going to guess them, because they wouldn’t think you would be that nuts in the first place.
2) Write passwords down somewhere?
Ok, this one is a bit extreme, because it requires common sense and the ability to use a writing implement, those medieval devices popular before the age of touchscreens. But it does work. Use different passwords for every single login and write them down in a book somewhere. That way, if the hacker wants a piece of your email, they’ll have to physically fight you for it (and statistics show most hackers are scrawny fellows).
3) Dispense with the modern age
Just throwing it out there, but 150 years ago the average Victorian wouldn’t have had to remember their pin number if they wanted to withdraw money. They would just send a servant instead. This seems a much more convenient and user-orientated experience and negates the pernickety use of logons. Another option would be to live away from technological society altogether and use the currency of trust and friendship to make things work. But I like the Victorian way better.
4) Become so rich that you can buy the internet
This is a sensible move, firstly, because it means that if people try to steal your money, it doesn’t really matter because there is so much of it. Second, you are the master of the virtual universe, and as the head of an autocracy you would be well placed to punish those that try to get in your way. MWAHAHAHA!
5) Hack back!
Hire some hackers to hack the hackers back! Probably wouldn’t work for a number of reasons (finding a trustworthy hacker one of them) and would be likely to make you criminally culpable. I would advise against this option.