Call for Security


By Neil Offen

It’s not always enough just to have a complex, inscrutable password when you want to check your email or access your bank account or buy a bottle of anti-aging repairing eye stick. Just to be extra sure you are who you say you are and not a hacker from Moldova—unless you are, in fact, a hacker from Moldova—you also may have to answer a few security questions.

This is because passwords, even inscrutable ones, are sometimes not sufficient to safeguard your accounts and protect your identity from being stolen and maybe seen wearing brown shoes with white socks. Just recently, a prominent password manager app was itself hacked, exposing thousands of passwords who had been minding their own business and telling each other jokes with punchlines ending in #$%J3! Frankly, I didn’t get the joke, but that may just be me.

Online security is important because we live in a time when identity theft has continued to grow. In fact, according to the most recent estimate, someone’s identity is stolen every three minutes, but because of our new privacy regulations, we are not permitted to identify that someone. It’s possible it may be your Pilates instructor, but we can’t be sure.

So, in addition to passwords, we have security questions. Of course, we set up those security questions years ago, never realizing we might have to answer them years later, after our brains had been stuffed with so much extraneous detail, like the results of 1984 preseason NFL games and recipes for Swedish meatballs. The answers, which seemed obvious at the time, may not come as easily now.

Remember, then, if you’re setting up security questions and answers today, don’t depend on unverifiable, misty recollections. When my wife was asked recently, after inputting her password when she tried to buy some anti-aging repairing eye stick, “who was your childhood best friend, her immediate response was Caroline, because that’s the only friend with whom she’s still in touch. But the answer turned out to be Valerie, because Valerie was the one who had given her the recipe for Swedish meatballs.

There are ways to avoid this. If you’re setting up security questions and answers today:   

Don’t depend on unverifiable, variable responses. You may have once put down that Paris was your dream vacation destination, but what if the Parisians really piss you off now with their snooty ways and the price of baguettes has hit the roof? Today you might answer Florida, which is always a mistake.

Never use your real answers to security questions. Hackers who have done their online research can easily know what city you were born in and your mother’s maiden name. Instead of the real answers, create ones that only have meaning to you. As an example, if you are asked your mother’s maiden name, respond “Baguette.”

If you insist on using your mother’s real maiden name, tattoo it on your arm. Put a tattoo on your hand so you’ll remember which arm.

Don’t try to show off. When the security question is “what is your favorite book,” don’t try to snow them by responding Great Expectations or Crime and Punishment, which, you know, you never finished, when the real answer is some schlock by Danielle Steel or 50 Shades of Grey.

And most important, remember that you will get only a couple of chances to answer the security questions correctly before you are completely shut out from the account and have to go to Moldova and search for it there.

Carrboro resident Neil Offen has written humor pieces for a number of different publications, in a number of different countries. His column appears twice monthly in The Local Reporter.

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