Hacked: a story of unwanted liberation from the digital world
But I’m also upset that this ecosystem that I’ve placed so much of my trust in has let me down so thoroughly.
These are the last words of Mat Honan, who was recently hacked and has received epic amounts of exposure in the process. The two other characters, corporations to be exact, are Apple and Amazon. In the early evening hours of August 3rd, the way we look at data and its protection may have changed forever. To blame these companies as single offenders is to be naive: it is a global problem that needs to be dealt with and we are all to take account for our actions and non-actions, respectively.
The person in focus, the victim Mat Honan, does just that. He repeatedly places the blame on himself for his actions and missed steps as critical blunders in securing his digital life:
Those security lapses are my fault, and I deeply, deeply regret them. […] I’m mostly mad at myself. I’m mad as hell for not backing up my data. I’m sad, and shocked, and feel that I am ultimately to blame for that loss.
Part of that digital life, it is written, is quite real and manages to spill out into his tangible life, where pictures of his daughter are erased remotely by hackers. These pictures are symbols of how integral our devices have become to our daily lives; smartphones and tablets being utilized as archival systems, notebooks as journals of the here and now. They are no longer toys, but toolboxes and keyrings to figurative doors.
With the dizzying pace of technology taking place, it is difficult to maintain what needs to be secured and what doesn’t and how to go about doing that. But that isn’t the real question and oftentimes, we leave it to the experts to sort out details. But in this case, the experts failed at doing what we have entrusted them to do, and ultimately we have failed ourselves. We have left micro-management to the very same people and services who court us in the marketplace. Would you leave your wallet at the coat check in a high-end shopping boutique simply because they offered the service? I know I wouldn’t.
The real problem, as mentioned earlier, is not about security. It is about dependence. We have this addiction to our favorite platforms, services, and devices. We buy into a brand name and then are wooed by their popularity which, it turns out, are just other people with the same perspective that we have, yet we take them to be authorities on the topic. Entrusting our digital lives, and overall our digital footprint, to the mob is not a smart move. Yet it is one many of us take gladly if we can have instant gratification.
Mat Honan learned the hard way. He was hacked, in stellar fashion, by some social engineering techniques Kevin Mitnick would probably be proud of. He, like so many other victims of identity theft, had his bubble of information access popped and his life erased. He also states several times in his story, that “daisychaining accounts” was at the core of his undoing. Connectivity, it seems, has a price. Social media pundits have claimed in recent years that this beast we call ‘mobile technology’ leaves us less connected to each other in a meaningful human way. I beg to disagree in this instance. I would feel quite connected, not estranged if some script kiddy hacked, not one but four, different accounts and tarnished or erased my public persona. That individual knows things I may only know and, as they say, knowledge is power. Mat writes in detail:
…one of my hackers @ messaged me. He would later identify himself as Phobia. I followed him. He followed me back.
We started a dialogue via Twitter direct messaging that later continued via e-mail and AIM. Phobia was able to reveal enough detail about the hack and my compromised accounts that it became clear he was, at the very least, a party to how it went down. I agreed not to press charges, and in return he laid out exactly how the hack worked.
This is where the story gets interesting but where I shall leave it to rest. The fact that someone got dictation of a post-hack interview, much less their own digital catastrophe is brilliant. The fact that the cloud is becoming our choice of storage, for our ever-insistent pleas of constant access to our goods, services, and profiles may turn out to be a high-risk venture, after all. But the cloud is not the culprit. It is merely a technology, an upgraded path to the one before it, which was static. The culprit is the process we take every time we interact with technology unaware of ourselves.
We have evolved into the Information Age with vast collections of knowledge and entertainment at our fingertips available around the clock. The specific questions we ask are utmost, and surely must include ones of inconvenient truths: could I achieve my goal without this app/device/platform? Is this desire even necessary? The increasingly popular answer is ‘no’ to both questions. It is not an answer which relays truth in the need for these items and actions, but more in a weakness of the present human condition. Ultimately, it is those security holes within our mental framework that will continue to be exploited, either by hacker or corporation, if we as a collective do not become mindful of our digital habits.