On sale: False sense of Internet security, for the low, low price of $120

Is your name among the stash of 1.2 billion stolen passwords? An Internet security firm can tell you -- for pennies per day!

Suspicious, ugly thoughts you wish you didn't have can sometimes save your bacon. Back in the late 1700s, there lived a rascal named Gregor MacGregor (really). A professional soldier from Scotland, he trundled off to South America to fight for the region's independence. When he returned to England, he bore the weighty responsibility of having become the Prince of Poyais, a small country located near the Black River in what is today Honduras.

The problem he laid at the feet of any Englishman who'd listen was that this fantastic country, a paradise rich in natural resources, needed buckets of money and an army of willing colonists to effectively develop. The prince managed to score both cash and colonists. He invested the one and told the other they should settle ahead of him and he'd follow directly once his country's investments were secure. Unfortunately for those unsuspicious colonists, there was no Poyais, as most found out only after they tried to travel there using MacGregor's supposed directions.

[ Don't panic: That Russian hack bombshell isn't what you think | 5 reasons Internet crime is worse than ever | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

We laugh at those poor schmucks today, standing there dumbfounded much like Butch and Sundance did 200 years later when they stepped off the train in the movie version of their last little outing to Bolivia. But there wasn't much they could have done. They wanted the opportunity; colonization was all the rage; and how could they have checked up on his story anyway? Many of their contemporaries were colonizing successfully, so they eagerly took it on faith.

My trust-challenged mind is wondering if we're doing the same thing ourselves, though motivated by fear as opposed to greed.

Freak out first, ask questions later

The Webosphere was abuzz recently with a report released by Hold Security that more than 1 billion passwords, across 400,000-plus compromised websites, had been stolen by a heinous and invisible Russian crime ring, which Hold has decided to give the malevolent-sounding name of CyberVor. You can almost see M giving James Bond the order to retire these buggers along with his new Bond girl, Didgi Delish.

Given how similar breaches seem to happen every other day, most of us took the news on faith born from resigned despair. This crap keeps happening over and over and over, so why start wondering now? Then Hold states it's willing to investigate the passwords and accounts of individuals who want to know whether they're affected, pending payment of $120 per person/customer/sucker.

Note to all the lawyers leaping for their keyboards to draft a libel suit against me: I'm not accusing Hold of anything, merely posing a hypothetical comparison of Hold's -- and other companies' -- path to riches with that of MacGregor's. (I'm not the only one; the guy who got me thinking this way was Graham Cluley.)

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