Tag Archives: password

Just because you’re paranoid…

18 Mar

I was talking with a friend the other day about a project and I asked for his email address. He didn’t want to use email; too easily hacked. His reasons were valid, but at what point does your security make it impossible to work?

There should be a term for this in IT Security, finding the balance between security and access, but I haven’t found it. (May I suggest “the Johnston Paradox?”) There are lots of really cool security tools that you can use to prevent people getting into your computer: biometrics, two-factor authentication, key fobs, ID card insertion, and even insanely complicated passwords. However, the more difficult you make the access, the harder it is to use, the less more likely users are going to simply bypass it and use their own (less secured) devices.

In 2001, I was working for a major insurance company, and my team’s entire job was finding out how we could let executives to use their PDA’s (handheld devices before iPhones). The demand was huge, but the security problem had to be overcome. You’re dealing with people’s personal data, or corporate finance, stuff you really don’t get to get out.

However, the problem is often NOT getting access, it’s when your computer interacts with the rest of the world. When I get online, I get pelted by four or five different digital intrusions just going to my first web page. We have automated security to fight automated intrusion software. Cookies attach themselves to every site you go to, although most now have to tell you they’re doing it. Most of the time, it’s just ads wanting to sell you things, but it doesn’t take much to be more insidious.

Just like most people, I take comfort in anonymity. I’m not important or rich enough to hack. Now… that’s foolish, and it’s not like I still don’t use passwords or take basic internet precautions, but someone looking up “Marcus Johnston” on the Internet has to get to the second page of search results to find me… and you’ll usually get “Johnsons” before you find the “t.” I still have a piece of tape over my camera, but not over my microphone.

But let’s say that you DO have something someone wants? You can encrypt your email, but there is decryption software, and it’s just a matter of time if someone really wants to read your communications. So my friend is not paranoid if wants to avoids email and pass flash drives instead. But it does means our communication is going to be slower, and if someone wants to listen in on your cell phone conversation, all you really need is a good (but technically illegal) ham radio. However, if I let myself worry about that, I won’t get anything done. If someone wants to read my diary, it won’t take much, but they also won’t get much other than my whining. It’s more flattering than damaging.

So my level of paranoia is far, far lower than my friend who… well, works in an area where a higher level of security is needed. But where’s your balance? Do you encrypt your emails? Or are you still annoyed when you have to change your password beyond the four you can remember? Let me know in the comments below!

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