Dear Computer Hacker, whoever you are:
Imagine my surprise, when Wednesday morning I tried to use my Paypal debit card to buy my morning coffee only to have my transaction declined. With a quick phone call to Paypal I learned that my account had been deactivated by the company for security reasons because – surprise! My account had been hacked.
Early that morning someone had accessed my account from two foreign countries, Vietnam and Poland. You or one of your computer-hacking comrades had found your way into my account, discovered the password and got by the security questions checkpoint to gain full access to my account. I’m still wondering how you accomplished this, but that is a mystery that will probably never be solved. The joke was on you however, because after spending all that time, energy, resources and talent to get into my account, you were probably pretty disappointed to learn that it only contained a measly balance of $1.58. For alas, I am one of those poor, working schleps that rarely has more than a few dollars in any of my accounts. I almost felt sorry for you. Almost. But having to make a frazzled phone call to Paypal customer service to restore my account, change my password and change my security settings – all before I had my morning coffee – put me in a bit of a bad mood. I couldn’t feel much sympathy for the disappointment you surely faced.
This is not the first time you have tampered with me. Over the summer, the password of one of my email accounts had been breached, making it necessary for me to change the passwords of every single account connected with that email address.
But I know I am not alone.
According to statistics on the Stop the Hacker organization website, nearly 75 percent of all Americans have at some point fallen victim to cybercrime. And it takes a skilled hacker a mere ten minutes to successfully unlock a six-digit password, according to the website.
And while zombie computers do much of a hacker’s work, there is always a real person involved somewhere.
Between late 2010 and June 2011, the computer hacking network Anonymous (and I don’t know if you, as the hacker of my account, can claim membership to that group) has been responsible for a large number of cyber attacks on companies such Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal as well as on foreign government computer systems, according to the FBI, who arrested six members of the group earlier this year.
Technology is a wonderful thing and I, for one, love the ease and convenience that the Internet offers for finding information, shopping for unique products or bargains or paying bills and banking online. As a working mom with a busy life, I’m a big fan of anything that saves me time, energy and money. But using this technology requires one key ingredient you hackers have learned to exploit: trust.
When someone like me makes an online purchase, we place a great deal of trust in the company we are dealing with, as well as the bank facilitating the transaction. But it goes much deeper than that. We also place our trust in humanity and believe in the basic goodness of people. Any computer system, whether it’s the bank’s or the your favorite merchant’s, is only as good as the people running it or those folks who figure out a way to access it. When we use the Internet, we trust in humanity. We believe that at the end of the day, everyone believes in the basic principles that stealing is wrong and hurting people or exploiting them is also wrong. With every keystroke you type, with every malware you plant, with every zombie computer you boot up, hackers like you are destroying our faith in humanity and our trust in an entity that promised to advance civilizations around the world and bring great things to mankind: the Internet.
While I appreciate that you did not steal the $1.58 I had in my account, your crime was not victimless and it has a tangible cost associated with it. The coffee house missed out on a morning sale. Yes, it was small sale, but for most small struggling businesses, every sale matters. Your actions required me to take time out of my morning to call into Paypal to secure my account and the company had to pay a person – a live person – to help me resolve the matter. As this type of thing happens quite often to unsuspecting consumers, this drives up the cost of doing business online for everyone. And what did you gain from this? Near as I can tell, nothing. The most you would have acquired is $1.58.
As a mom, I’m going to give you a bit of advice your own mother should have given you. I often tell my own kids “use your talents for good, not evil.” Given your ability to get past computer system security checkpoints and access whatever information you want, I’m betting you are educated, clever, ambitious and far more computer savvy than I will ever be. These are marketable business traits and desirable in this economy. And as your comrades continue to find ways to thwart the security of computer systems, businesses need your help fighting back. And you see, Karma is a funny thing. In life, you always get back what you put in. If you put out negative energy, from hacking or stealing for example, you get negative energy coming right back at you. But when you put positive energy out into the world, you get positive energy back in return. Good luck. I’m guessing you need it.
1. Stop the Hacker website, http://www.stopthehacker.com/2012/04/20/ten-scariest-hacking-statistics/
2. FBI news release, http://www.fbi.gov/newyork/press-releases/2012/six-hackers-in-the-united-states-and-abroad-charged-for-crimes-affecting-over-one-million-victims/