Tuesday, November 1, 2011

James Fallows Explains His travails in addressing a Data Breach of His Wife's Gmail Account

An excellent, though rather long,  Atlantic Monthly piece by the superb essayist, James Fallows concerning the massive data breach of his wife's Gmail account.  Of course, this is everyone's worst nightmare.  A hacker breaches your email or other electronic files.

In the Fallows' case, the hacker sent emails to Deb Fallows' (James' wife) contact list, posing as Deb under the ruse that Deb travelled to Madrid on a lark and needed money because she was robbed; could you, dear old friend, please send some money to pay for a hotel and a plane ticket home?

The real interesting part was how Google handled, or more precisely, mishandled the breach, only to get largely it right in the end. Given the initial bureaucratic run-around that Fallows was getting from Google at the beginning of the process following the breach, one wonders that if Fallows had not been on personal terms with the Chairman of Google (Eric Schmidt) who was actually one of the recipients of the hacker's email posing as Deb and purportedly cryptically wrote back an email with the subject line: "Deb's email has been hacked",  would this situation been properly addressed by Google if it were you or me?  I don't know, but I suspect it would be a very tough go.

Making matters far worse, six years of Deb's emails archives were wiped out by the hacker. For those that operate in the Cloud (which increasingly is everyone), this is too horrible a scenario to even contemplate. Treasured family and friend correspondences, photos, personal financial information, business emails, documents and other records, all gone. Poof! That is what happened, at least initially, to Deb. Major take-aways: 1) devise complex passwords and switch them with some regularity; 2) actually shut down your computer after each session; and 3) avoid using computers at libraries, internet cafes when accessing personal email and other accounts which require passwords.

This is the reality of life in the Cloud. Adapt or face the risk of personal and professional catastrophe.



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