I should have been angry. I should have been furious. I should have been ranting with self-righteous indignation. I should have felt like my privacy had be violated, like my world had been invaded, like my self had been stolen and yet the best I could muster was a rather insipid ‘whatever’.

This message appeared in my email box:

Hi Mary,

Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account using an application such as an email client or mobile device.

Details: Sunday, February 19, 2017 1:21 PM (Eastern European Standard Time)

So, someone in Egypt is busy pretending they’re me and the best I can do is wonder what they look like. Are they even a flesh-and-blood person or are they a computer program randomly trying a bunch of pilfered addresses? If they’re real, are they male or female, boy or girl, man or woman? Are they doing this for a living or just for the hell of it? What do they hope to gain? My emails aren’t that interesting. And where did they get my address/password from anyway?

Cyber-attacks on grand scale happen every day. At the Warsaw Summit back in July last year, NATO declared cyberspace as the fourth military domain, in company with land, air, and sea. The battle is on. A quick check of the Hackmageddon site shows the scale of what’s happening out there and it ain’t pretty:

… the discovery of a long lasting cyber espionage campaign in Italy dubbed EyePyramid, targeting the political and economical elite, and the massive cyber attack against Barts Health Trust, the largest NHS trust in England.

Now, with power grids being brought their knees (remember Kiev being plummeted into darkness last year?), with the accounts of millions of being compromised, my thief in Egypt will hardly rate a mention. And knowing that, I couldn’t muster anything close to anger. Because sadly, I see it as a cost of doing business on the Net. At some stage, all of my accounts will be compromised. Live with it, Mary.

And add to the theft itself, the doubt it created. Because of this one incident, I had to change all my passwords everywhere and that was no mean feat, not to mention inconvenient and an hour of my life I’ll never get back. But before the change could happen, I had to find out if the original Google alert was real. Yep. Perhaps the warning was a phishing scam and not really from Google at all. But I checked the email address, proofread the text, and made sure it was from a secure site. And that, ladies and gentlemen is the extent of my preparedness. Sad.

Do I need to know more? Do I need to take more precautions? Or can I be sure that Google is out there, watching my back, knowing that it can’t prevent people stealing my password but it can let me know when it happens…

So much for the initial ‘whatever’. The real anger, frustration, and indignation set in when I started thinking of how much more I whatever – more important things like racial comments, bullying, political stupidity. Are they, too, just the price I pay for living in the twenty-first century? Have my sensibilities been dulled to the point that I’m growing inured to atrocities and injustice? Am I retreating into my own little world, cocooning myself in a bucolic blanket, about as far as I can get from reality without stepping off the world altogether? Is my ever-present craving to hole up in the countryside symptomatic of  my disillusionment with life in general? Has feeling safe become so important that I relish closing the gates on the outside world, just to feel that sense of peace I don’t know anywhere else?

Damn you, Egypt. I had more to be doing this week than second-guess myself.



Time to (re)take responsibility

It’s not a gun that kills someone; it’s the person who pulls the trigger. It’s not Facebook or e-mail that ruins people’s lives, it’s the person who posts the message – or worse still, mindlessly forwards and shares messages without checking that their contents are true.

Just ask Mark Hendricks. Apparently, back in 2010, a friend of the South Africa native circulated a photo of Mark with the message:

People please beware of the man in the picture, as he is very dangerous and is in the business of selling young girls and boys. He also preys on ladies that are single to get them into the HUMAN Trafficking circle. If you do see him please just ignore him and get away from him as far as possible and alert the police ASAP. PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS PICTURE TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. THE MORE PEOPLE SEE HIS FACE, THE LESS CHANCE HE HAS OF GETTING TO ONE OF OUR CHILDREN

The so-called friend who did this said it was just a prank. A joke. They had no idea the consequences it would have. In 2010, the message went viral and now it’s resurfacing again. It ruined Hendricks’s life once… and no doubt will do so again. The descriptive ‘living hell’ comes to mind.

That the friend was at fault for dreaming this up in the first place, is a no-brainer. Such a level of irresponsibility is heinous. But what of all the others who aided and abetted by forwarding and sharing? It could be argued that they thought they were doing something for the greater good of mankind, but no one obviously stopped to check if it was true.

My mother is fond of saying that paper will take any print. It doesn’t discriminate. And yet our ability to tell right from wrong, true from false, is what marks us as human. With the pressures of time and the myriad of information out there, can we be held responsible for not taking precious minutes to verify the facts? And indeed is verifying the facts even possible anymore? Has the widespread availability of information robbed us of our powers to tell right from wrong? Has the quickening pace of society and the expectation of instantaneous communication put pressure on us to the point that we simply forward and share so that we feel we are doing something?

We need to wake up to the fact that lives can be and are being ruined at the push of a button. And we need to take responsibility for the part we play in this. 

First published at DiploFoundation 30 August 2013