The greatest threat on the Internet isn’t a virus or an unsolicited picture of some dude’s man parts; it’s the password intended to keep me safe. Thanks to the false sense of security that code provides, I upload sensitive financial and personal information, much to the delight of cyber criminals, the government, and Dracula. These days he does his stalking in the digital realm, but he hasn’t had much luck. The first rule of online etiquette is to be wary of anyone who asks about age, sex, location, or blood type.
The only people kept out by login encryptions are the rightful owners of the accounts. It recently took me 15 tries to remember my password for an online retailer, and by the time I finally logged in the nose hair trimmers I wanted were sold-out. Apparently I’m not the only one whose wife cut him off from sex over nostril grooming. While I vainly struggled to win the war on nose hair, hackers could access my account at will thanks to an exploit experts overlooked for a full two years. The Internet’s “secure” websites are like bank vaults that have an impenetrable steel door but no back wall. People who want to get in the right way struggle to put in the correct combination, but thieves just pull up in the rear and throw stolen stuff in a U-Haul. And the worst part is they rented it with my credit card numbers.
Honestly, criminals are the least of my concerns. Hackers in Eastern Europe can try to take out loans in my name, but they’ll quickly discover no one trusts me with money. If anything, online bandits would improve my credit rating. In hindsight, it was a mistake to gamble on Pokémon cards. The real threat is the government. I obviously don’t have anything to hide, but only as long as I keep it hidden. I put out way too many words the Internet, often in unusual combinations that might get me singled-out as a terrorist. In an age when even a rice cooker can transform into a weapon mass destruction, a site called “exploding unicorn” raises more than a few red flags. That’s why I take a break from the Internet every once and a while. My wife calls it “quality time with our family.” I call it “establishing an alibi.” As an added precaution, when I do log in, I use my neighbor’s Wi-Fi. That way it’ll be his house rather than mine that gets blown up by a drone strike.
There are checks and balances in place to stop government intrusions, but those measures are enforced by the government. The honor system works about as well at the national level as it does in my own life. To date, I’ve netted $95 from those take-a-penny-leave-a-penny jars. Recent leaks of classified information show the CIA and FBI really do respect online privacy, unless they need to illegally access personal information for national security reasons or because they’re curious or bored. The only way to know if an email contains stolen nuclear codes or pictures of kittens with misspelled captions is to check, and the government takes that responsibility very seriously – especially if the kittens have the nuclear codes. Then we’re all as good as dead.
Most of the time, federal authorities don’t even bother to use their supercomputers to break into people’s accounts. Instead, they simply issues subpoenas to companies like Microsoft and Google, which do the honorable thing by immediately selling out. It turns out integrity is worth less than the goodwill of the government, which could lead to tax breaks for those companies or simply a promise not to bomb them out of existence. It’s hard to make a fair deal when one side has a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the earth. Government officials with the law on their side are just as likely to break into my accounts as the outlaws who rob me. Clearly my passwords do a ton of good.
Those encryptions are only a minor inconvenience when I remember them, which is never. The rest of the time, each one is an hour-long exercise in cryptography and swearing. When I try to log on to my email account, my kids have to cover their ears and leave the house. Back in the day when security standards were lower and dragons still roamed the earth, I used the same simple password for everything. Then some programmer realized that made entirely too much sense and threw down a gauntlet of increasingly arbitrary password requirements implemented unevenly across the Internet. Various websites required me to modify my original combination by adding more letters, numbers, special characters, magic spells, and DNA samples, resulting in dozens of variations. Now when I try to access my motley assortment of online memberships, I have to cycle through these passwords until I hit the one that works. If I don’t guess correctly on the first few tries, I get locked out and have to reset the code, which gives me one more password I’ll never remember. If I really want to access my information, I should just ask the hackers to check on it for me while they’re in there. It’s the least they could do.
The entire premise of the Internet is a ruse, anyway. Rather than making my life easier, it’s only true purpose is to screw me over more efficiently. I no longer waste time wandering through dark alleys when I want to get mugged. Instead, I play a flash game for 20 minutes while malware steals my life savings. I hope those hackers enjoy my $8.22. Just six more months of saving and I would’ve had enough for a beer run. Likewise, the government doesn’t bother with clumsy spy satellites anymore. Instead, big brother counts on me to self-report my own activities every second of every day, which I do in my vain quest for validation on social media. If I’m ever suspected of a crime, the detectives won’t find a time when I was away from my computer long enough to commit it. It’s impossible to know if that seven-minute pause between my tweets was because I murdered someone or because I had to deal with the fallout from chili the night before. Maybe someday I’ll learn to do both at once.
The Internet and the passwords that guard it cause me nothing but trouble, but I don’t have the willpower to leave. Like any good addict, I’m completely dependent on the things that kill me, but my eventual online exit may not be up to me. There will come a day when my total number of passwords will span into the thousands, and I’ll be unable to guess them, even after days of trying. Then I’ll be forced to rub my eyes and wander out into the sunlight for the first time in years. With any luck, I’ll be dead long before then.