Recently I have received a number of emails from people I know, including artists that begin something like this:
“Help! – You may not know this, but I have been on a surprise trip in Spain for the last couple of days. Last night I was mugged and the thief got away with my passport and all of my money. The embassy is helping me get new identification, but I have no way to get cash at the moment because I don’t have my bank card or id. Can you wire me a few dollars until I get things straightened out?”
You’ve probably received an email or two like this yourself, and even though I’ve now become immune to them, every time I see one I realize that someone has an identity headache on their hands.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly art-related per se, but artists and art lovers are spending more and more time online. We’re all becoming increasingly reliant on our websites, blogs, mobile banking, email accounts, etc. While the internet has made our lives immensely more convenient, this convenience comes at a price to our security. Identity theft is a continuing threat to anyone who spends time online.
Over the weekend Gizmodo.com’s Twitter account was hacked and hijacked when Mat Honan, a former employee, had his online credentials compromised. This is only the latest in a string of such incidents, but serves as a reminder that it pays to be careful. You can read about Mat’s experience on his blog, emptyage.
I read an even more in-depth article last year in the Atlantic, which you can read online here. This article was particularly helpful because it shared not only James Fallow’s experience when his wife’s gmail account was hacked, but also gives some good advice about what you might do to better secure your accounts.
• Choose a long, familiar-to-you sequence of ordinary words, with spaces between them as in an ordinary sentence, which more and more sites now allow. “Lake Winnebago is deep and chilly,” for instance. Or “my favorite packer is not brett favre.” You could remember a phrase like that, but a hacker’s computer, which couldn’t tell spaces from characters, would see only one forbiddingly long password sequence.
• Choose a shorter sequence of words that are not “real” English words. I once lived in a Ghanaian village called Assin Fosu. I can remember its name easily, but it would be hard to guess. Even harder if I added numbers or characters.
• Choose a truly obscure, gibberish password—“V*!amYEg5M5!3R” is one I generated just now with the LastPass system, and you’re welcome to it—and then find a way to store it. Having it written down in your wallet is one, though the paper it’s on shouldn’t say “Passwords” at the top. The approach I prefer, and use for some passwords, is to entrust them to online managers like LastPass or RoboForm. Even if their corporate sites were hacked, that wouldn’t reveal all your passwords, since the programs work by storing part of the encoding information in the cloud and part on your own machine.
At a minimum, any step up from “password,” “123456,” or your own birthday is worthwhile.
Finally, use different passwords. Not hundreds of different ones, for the hundreds of different places that require logins of some kind. The guide should be: any site that matters needs its own password—one you don’t currently use for any other site, and that you have never used anywhere else.
Artist and friend Lori McNee had her blog hacked last year – so don’t think it doesn’t happen to artists. Even though having your blog or email may not result in immediate financial damage, think of the frustration and time waste involved in getting things back in order.
Time to change your passwords!
[UPDATE: I've decided to follow my own advice and secure all of my login info. I am using one of the resources mention in the Atlantic Article, lastpass.com - I can already tell it's going to revolutionize my life in terms of organizing all of the millions (okay, dozens) of login credentials I have to keep track of. The best part, it secure and free. Check it out.]
Have you been hacked? What do you do to keep your identity safe online? Share your experiences in the comments below.