Touissaint column: Hackers, tramps and thieves — there is, unfortunately, an app for that
Recently, my friend Jae asked me to join Venmo; she wanted to repay me electronically for a $19.45 purchase. I came slightly unhinged, texting a diatribe that ended with: “Adding another financial app holds about as much appeal as a colonoscopy.”
For my vintage, I’m fairly geeky. I regularly monitor my online reputation. (My husband of 30 years is going to be surprised to learn I’m single.) I can build websites. I understand why online ads for seafood restaurants followed me after I searched “lobster clasp” to repair a necklace. I know that what I share on Facebook will be forever accessible to 1.74 billion of my closest friends.
Thank goodness my ski bum years predated the internet. My Snowmass friends and I would unlock the saunas in the wee hours for nude parties. We’d drink, smoke weed and then dive into deserted swimming pools to cool our jets. Because we posted no selfies, you have only my written assertion for this. Today’s youthful exuberance gets Instagrammed, so it had better be as innocent as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dance video. Because it’s gonna have a “long tail” and be harder to remove than a misspelled tattoo.
As a writer and artist, I need a web presence. I shop online, especially for things you can’t buy without driving to Grand Junction. (But how we’re going to pay for stuff on Amazon after the internet kills off most of our local jobs I don’t know.) I do own a smartphone. I carry it to meetings to access my calendar, email and shared documents. But so far, I’m enforcing some boundaries in the hope that my tech devices don’t invade my privacy or become portals for hackers, cons and thieves.
I refuse to carry my cellphone when I’m skiing or hiking because I’m there to unplug. I also turn the TVs, computers and cellphone off at night. Their blue light causes insomnia, but more to the point, why leave the internet door ajar?
I’ll never buy an internet-enabled refrigerator. I don’t use Alexa or Siri, and I would never, ever use a Fitbit or online health-tracking app. They’re all potential spies, and there are things I don’t care to share with a billion or so close friends.
I refuse to make any financial transaction—even donating to a favorite nonprofit — if someone phones me. Two reasons: 1) I’m hearing-impaired, and 2) I don’t trust that whoever has called is who s/he claims to be. (By the way, the IRS will never phone you. Nor will Microsoft.)
After regrettably spamming many of my friends recently, I erected another self-imposed barrier. I no longer forward anything with my phone. While I really DON’T think members of congress should be exempt from the health care plan they mandate for the rest of us, I really DO owe it to my friends (and readers) to fact-check before publishing. It’s easy to check Snopes from my computer, but hard to manage that trick in multiple tiny windows on my tricky little phone.
Last year, I took that phone on an out-of-state business trip. I needed to schedule plumbers and flooring contractors, pay for materials and track deliveries. I also needed to stop a check. After the third time I got locked out of my bank accounts (because I couldn’t remember the latest, required password update!), my tech-savvy, privacy-oriented engineer friend said, “You need an app for that.”
Oh crap, another app.
Well, Dashlane, LastPass and the like do track passwords and secret questions across phones, tablets and computers. I have two computers, one smartphone, two banks, two credit cards and two mortgages to track, not to mention Social Security, Paypal and too many other online accounts to even list. I can’t begin to recall which dead pet is connected to which account. But hackers can figure it out, and because online accounts are interconnected, a breach into one enables them to burrow into another.
So even though paying another monthly fee was about as appealing as a colonoscopy, I purchased a password manager.
It not only holds all the passwords I can’t remember, the app also lets me know as soon as a hack occurs. I wasn’t among the 5 million JP Morgan-Chase customers compromised in 2015, but I do use eBay (145 million accounts breached in 2014) and Equifax tracks you, me and your brother (147.9 million accounts, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses of almost half of the total U.S. population were compromised in 2017).
And the hackers are sure busy. I get a “data breach” alert about once a month. That tells me that it’s time to change ALL those passwords. Again. Luckily, there’s an app that generates a ho8cE8HtX9*rPD)gTIY5#YIv password for each one of them.
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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