It has actually been a few weeks now since the news first broke about suspected North Korean hackers paralyzing three major banks in South Korea―not to mention the two largest broadcasters in that country―but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Truth is, I’m a little irritated if I have to so much as wait in line too long to get access to my money: To have my life savings held hostage by anonymous online thugs is almost unthinkable.
But with the South Korea hacking event―just one of several increasingly ballsy online security breaks in recent months―I’ve found it hard not to start second-guessing everything about the way we currently go about our daily lives and business. I can say that there’s pretty much no part of my life that isn’t controlled or tracked online, from my banking to my medical records and appointments to my old student loan payments to my personal photos to my health insurance, paychecks and investments. Don’t get me wrong, I love it: All of the electronic stuff is so organized, so easy.
But what price is organized and easy?
One of the books that I read and re-read in my formative years was Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. The book’s premise revolves around a crazed theocracy overthrowing the American government and then supporting the total subjugation of women (among other atrocities). And how does the coup begin? With the seizure of all women’s assets from banks, which kept files labeled by gender. The whole plot is brilliant and scary, mainly because it doesn’t seem terribly far outside the scope of plausibility. My money generally exists to me on paper and on a screen: How easy would it be for those numbers to suddenly disappear! What is one’s recourse? And just add to that the other aspects of my life that exist on other “secure” networks. It sounds like something you’d hear on a trailer for the next Tom Cruise movie, but any information that falls into the wrong hands could be real trouble.
Oh, relax, you might be saying right now. This isn’t South Korea, and you’re being hysterical. And I’d like to relax, I really would: My generation, after all, basically created this stuff. Our whole lives revolve around technology, and the trust we put in it. Most of my friends do not harbor such paranoid twinges of doubt; I actually feel embarrassed every time I draw secret Handmaid’s Tale parallels to real life. And then I remember the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Michelle Obama. Oh, and the CIA and the FBI.
But because thinking about your own electronic vulnerability in an electronic world is enough to drive you insane, if you let it, I try to let go. A tech-savvy co-worker recently heard me complaining about my ever-present online crib sheet―a roster as long as my forearm filled with sign-in names and passwords― and she told me about hostednotes.com, an evidently well-known and widely trusted site where you can, she assures me, totally safely keep all your passwords to everything.
“Isn’t that just asking for trouble?” I ask her, and she shrugs. “A lot of high-profile people trust their information to it,” she says. She turns to leave, then stops to add, over her shoulder, “But if you get hacked, it’s not my fault.”