June 5, 2015

Fighting Back Against a Hack Attack

Another day, another announcement that some major US institution of the retail, insurance, entertainment or governmental variety has been hacked.

Usually, by the time we hear about it, the security breach is over and the perpetrators are not resting on their laurels but instead, deep into planning their next foray into everything we hold sacred: our social security numbers, birth dates, naked selfies, financial information, emails, and, at least in my case, the fact that I love Chocolate Silk (that's coffee, not a lingerie preference or anything like that).

The latest one, an attack on the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that apparently happened last December and was only discovered this April, is said to have been initiated by China, and comes on the heels of Russia sticking its official nose into emails at the State Department and the White House. (We haven't heard of any emails on Hillary Clinton's personal server being compromised; I wonder who handles her data security?)

As I've noted in the past, I've been hit in at least two of these things. Somehow I seem to have missed out on the Home Depot breach which is surprising given how often we shopped there, and the rest of my transactions seem to have been fairly well protected. As far as I know, anyway.

While our government and other targets have been quick to identify who the perps are, and confidently point to Russia, China and of course North Korea on the infamous SONY breach, we don't seem to be even half as adept at preventing the darn things from happening in the first place.

And of course, we have no idea how the information that's been compromised will be used, or even if it will ever be used.

Cyber attacks, like any other kind of terrorism, are successful even if the information never sees the light of day, because what's compromised for all who get caught up in this is our feeling of security, of safety, and the fact that, no matter what, some troll in a basement, dormitory, or sweatshop hack factory in a foreign land can nose around in our electronic underwear drawer almost at will and we, sitting in the greatest country in the world, are helpless to prevent it.

But then, are we realty helpless?  Really helpless?  Or, are we merely convinced we're helpless because we are portrayed as such by friend and foe alike?

What if we, as consumers and employees and dammit as Americans just stepped away from our laptops and notebooks, our smart phones and app-laden watches, our microchips and hi-tech glasses, and coerced our driverless cars to take to the shoulder, and we all pulled a 'Network'?

I mean, if we all went Peter Finch on every website we do business with, and we demanded our employers took better care of our data, and we required our insurance companies and financial institutions to prove they cared about us and our personal information as much as they say they do, could it make a difference?

Or, if that won't work, what if we stopped doing business electronically, and decided our financial security, our personal security, the names and birth dates of our pets and children, the make and model of our first car or our elementary school best friend's name, or any special phone number we remember from childhood were actually important to us?

What if we decided that it was worth it to carry cash and actually pay for stuff the old fashioned way, where you all had to know to protect yourself from getting ripped off was how to count change?  

What if we conscientiously made the choice that instead of shopping at big retailers, we would search out and patronize local stores and yes, paid more for the privilege of becoming known to the shop owners? If they know that I'm me because I shop there all the time, there's not much chance that you're going to pull off a switcheroo, even if you're a rat bastard and physically have my credit card in your hand.

Or, finally, here's perhaps an only slightly more ridiculous idea: from now on, I'm only doing business with folks who encrypt their data in a random, ever-changing combination of baby talk, late 70's jive, and Navajo.

Are you with me?