Technology tricked us. The evolution of the internet and all the ease it offered to our lives came with a wickedly insidious condition. The internet became a crime-filled zone which required ever increasing vigilance.
I remember a time when I had two codes I had to remember. One code, four digits long, was dialed on the phone to retrieve voice messages. The other code, also four digits long, was used with a bank card to get money from my checking account. Easy, safe and effective. The good old days.
Decades later, and workers are replaced by automated systems, ever more convoluted and frustrating. Every online business requires a passcode to interact.
I found myself attracted to online shopping. I had a memorable code to do my shopping and that was great until the first hack occurred. I started having to make a list of my passwords, lining through and updating them each time I was required to create a new code. Codes could not be repeated from the past. Also, as time went on, simple words with a number evolved into ever more complex requirements. The codes had to be increasingly long, with at least one capital letter and a special symbol. Symbols were defined, excluding some characters. There were so many variations on code requirements and such frequent code changes that my hand-written list of codes looked battle worn, with scratches and scribbles.
Each company wants their passwords to be unique and used on no other system. I looked in my smartphone and looked at the passcode app where there were sixty codes auto-filled. Every app or website has a password to enter, and these codes must be changed often. I was notified that at least twenty of my codes had been involved in data breaches and should be changed. I didn’t panic, as I do not store my financial codes. Those I record on an important piece of paper, locked in a safe.
I reviewed the sites associated with codes. Most of them had to do with online shopping. During Covid these sites were a lifeline, particularly during lockdown. I ordered groceries, clothes, gifts, books and more online. I also must make medical appointments and drugstore transactions online, with special passcodes for privacy. If I let my phone create a secure code it looks like gibberish and has about twenty characters. There is no way any of these codes can be memorized.
My friend was recently hacked on Facebook. We had strange requests from her like “Do you shop on Amazon?” I called her and she informed me of the breach. She called her information technology representative on a conference call and he informed us, “We can’t stay ahead of the hackers. Keep changing your passwords.”
Then I had a scary thing happen. I tried to access my credit card account online and the page froze and made a honking noise. The screen said my computer was invaded and it was locked. I should call the number on the screen to have access again.
I dialed the number and the call was answered by a man with a heavy foreign accent. He said he was in data security and that he could handle the problem. Something seemed odd and I told him I’d feel more comfortable calling the number on my credit card to get the fraud department. He retorted angrily, “I AM the fraud department!” I hung up. My bank was always polite with me, never nasty.
I called the actual fraud department. They asked if I’d given any private information, which I had not done. There was no illegal activity on my account, so I was safe.
“Change your password,” the helpful security agent said, as though the change of a password was like chewing gum. I wanted to scream.
Applications for passcode storage were offered. I wondered what would happen if those were hacked. Sure enough, in the last few weeks one of them was hacked and the news reported that to hackers this was like hitting the jackpot.
As it stands now, I accept that we remain vulnerable to online crime, one password away from theft, or social mischief. I realize that our passwords, once handy tools to make life easy, now dominate our daily lives. They inspire more angst than feelings of protection.
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