Yahoo breach exposes naked truth about online security

The umpteenth violation of our Internet privacy proves once again the dearth of common sense among us Web users

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Remember wardriving? Not everyone does

We're not even learning from old lessons. The last time wardriving made the news was back in the late '90s, but last month a Sophos security researcher in much better shape than me hopped on his bicycle with a wardriving rig and spent four days cruising around San Francisco. Along the way he bumped into more than 70,000 different Wi-Fi networks, supporting all kinds of new client devices, like tablets, phones, game consoles, even printers and refrigerators. According to James Lyne, the warbiker, 20 percent of the networks he saw were flat out open, like come-on-in-and-peruse-my-hard-disk open.

Worse, 10 percent of the networks whose owners had the presence of mind to hit the Security button on the setup wizard opted for plain WEP, which was outed as digital Swiss cheese a decade ago. Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, all you home/SMB router folks: That protocol shouldn't even be available anymore. If you must go that route, at least name it "I love the NSA" so that people know what they're logging into.

Merely skimming the news over the last year for similar examples would turn this little rant into a book. From ATMs to POS terminals to email exchanges and goofy server passwords like "p@ssword" or "hackme," the list goes on and on and on. We shouldn't be plagued by spies, crooks, corporations, and Google AIs rummaging through our digital closets, but we are and we all know it. If you don't, you're not on the Web anyway, and the NSA will have to root through your garbage to get data on your private life.

Who's feeding the crooks? We are

Even though we know intelligence analysts are slavering over our Web trysts, we're not turning off our Web access. According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 10 percent of us would rather give up TV before giving up Internet access -- myself included.

I can't live without the Web anymore. It's sad but true. When the evil, hunchbacked wretches at Comcast manage to down my connection every so often for a cackle, I'm bouncing off the walls after a couple of hours. Turn off my TV and I'll pop a DVD into the Blu-ray player or log into Netflix or whichever online entertainment service can afford Comcast's streaming video toll these days. But turn off my Web connection and I'm no longer sure what to do with myself. Well, there's always that, but what am I going to do two minutes later? Probably tell myself I'm going to the gym but wind up at Starbucks drinking a $10, 800-calorie cappuccino and hooking into the store's Wi-Fi for my fix.

I'm probably shouting at the wind, but we need to pay a little more attention to our digital privacy. I can't move to Wyoming and live off the grid, mainly because I'm too out of shape to chop wood and Pammy would shoot me before I reached the West Side Highway.

But I'm certainly techie enough to make it a little difficult on whomever is trying to sleazily Dyson-ize my data. Check out the TOR network. Use WPA2 or maybe a good, old-fashioned Cat5e cable. Encrypt my email. Use a password that isn't crackable in 10 seconds by a grade schooler with an iPad. Don't restructure my 401(k) on my smartphone. None of it's hackproof, but at least it'll make brows furrow for a little while.

And here's a thought: Maybe keep my love life offline.

This article, "Yahoo breach exposes naked truth about online security," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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