Dear <fill in the blank with the name of a major technology producer CEO>,
I understand that you want to make supertanker loads of money so that you can vacation in the Mediterranean and eat your lunch off nude prostitutes, and I know that people who take your technology and use it for things other than what you were able to imagine they should is really scary, but I hate to break it to you: hackers and makers are really your friends.
You see, whenever a hacker or maker takes your product and does something with it you did not imagine they could, they essentially hand you a new product for free with the potential for even more supertanker loads of money (and hence, more nude prostitute sushi). Further, every time someone develops a new use for your product, based either on the original product or on a new development someone hacked, that’s a new supertanker.
In essence, all of these hackers and makers represent an entire free product development division that won’t demand any more benefits than to have the right to open something they’ve paid for, to see how it works, and to use it they way they want.
In fact, if you encourage such initiative by making your products hackable and makeable, you might find out that people might start to like your company even more and not get so upset with your supertankers full of money and nude prostitute sushi. What’s more, if you take some of that money–just a tiny little bit–and use it to fund contests to see what people might be able to do with your products, you might even accelerate the process.
Or, you could just do things the way you always have, jealously guarding your products against such intrusions while hackers and makers do what they’re going to do anyway. That is, those hackers and makers will do it until they get bored or something better comes along, maybe some other company’s product that isn’t afraid to put it out there and see what happens. Then, that company will get the supertankers full of money you wish you had while you’re stuck sharing your cheeseburger with your dog in Greenland.
More than any other thing, what surprises me about the Sony hack is how unprepared anyone seemed to be for something like this to happen. To me, it seems like it was almost inevitable, yet Sony has taken down its network for days and does not seem to have any remedy for the problems that happened in the first place. Meanwhile, users whose information has been compromised seem to be as paralyzed as Sony itself.
Beneath all of this lies a simple fact: individual user data has value to criminals and, because of that value, is going to be pursued with diligence by criminals capable of exploiting it. Companies offering online services, especially ones that involve financial or private, personally identifiable information, must commit themselves to making the protection of that information their highest priority, even ahead of profit. Unless companies make security their priority, they won’t have to worry about profit.
Consumers, on the other hand, cannot simply sit back and expect companies to protect their information. Every individual who has that kind of information online must assume that it is going to be stolen and must do due diligence in protecting themselves from theft. If the consumers do not, then the damage done by such theft is as much their responsibility as it is the companies whose systems are compromised.
Finally, consumers, companies, credit providers, and banks alike must all work toward establishing more sophisticated ways of securing individual data. Simple firewall and encryption methods no longer suffice and need to be replaced with methods that more closely tie online data to its owners.
For the time being, there are simple steps anyone can take to ensure they are protecting themselves:
- Only use credit cards or proxy money services (like PayPal) online. Never, ever use your debit card (I know this from firsthand experience), and monitor your bank accounts regularly for unfamiliar transactions.
- Monitor credit card accounts for unfamiliar transactions and dispute such transactions through the credit card’s fraud protection service as soon as they appear.
- Monitor your credit using the free credit report service authorized required under federal law. Be familiar with your outstanding credit and be vigilant for new credit lines you did not open.
- If you know your identity has been compromised, consider using a credit monitoring service and consider freezing your credit.