Meet Mat Honan.
Chances are, you don’t know him.
Unless you’re really into technology, in which case you’ve probably read a lot of his work -- Honan is a senior writer at Wired and a former reporter for Gizmodo.com.
Honan is also, now, an excellent cautionary tale of how your entire (online) life, relegated to the technology we all so love, can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
In his own words, via an interview with ABC News this week: "I was in my daughter’s bedroom and I was playing with her and I saw the phone power down. At first I thought the battery died. I went and plugged in the phone and when I did that I got the ‘activate your phone’ screen." He then grabbed his MacBook only to find alerts that his Google password was incorrect. After the MacBook powered itself off, his iPad did the same thing.
"My first thought was that someone had gotten onto my local network, so I went upstairs and turned off the router," Honan said.
When all was said and done, his Twitter account had been taken over; his entire Google account and Gmail inbox was cleaned out; his iPhone, iPad and MacBook were completely wiped. Years of files, family photos and much more, gone in an instant.
Honan has since pieced together how the hack took place, and written about it extensively at Wired.com. In short, it was a
"(The hacker) knew that if you call Amazon and tell them you are the account holder and want to add a credit card all you need is the name on the account, the associated email address, and the billing address," ABC News reported. "(The hacker) had those all. Here comes the loophole: call back and tell Amazon you’ve lost access to your account, provide a name, billing address, and the new credit card number, and Amazon will let you send the new account info to a new email address."
Once in possession of that information, the hacker went to Apple to gain access to Honan’s iCloud account, where users can connect all of their online accounts into one, convenient location ... and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since the report, Apple and Amazon have said they are adjusting their systems accordingly.
These days, people are accessing bank accounts via their smartphones, with shortcut aps downloaded for ease of use. What happens when you lose that phone? How many times have we heard of celebrities’ phones being hacked all so the perpetrators could gain access to "scandalous" photographs? There’s even a plug-in for your smart phone that will allow you to swipe a credit card and have payments made directly to your banking account.
And that’s just on your phone. How many of us have password-protected our wireless networks used at home? Anyone driving by could gain access to your personal home computer via that connection.
There was a time people were concerned about swiping their credit card at the grocery store. Those days seem long gone, now, yet we still hear of networks being compromised and customers’ personal information being compromised.
Technology makes life easier, but it also comes with risks.
"In the end, as much as you want to live in the cloud, you’ve got to know that your information is vulnerable in the cloud, but it’s vulnerable when it’s on your computer too," Robert Siciliano, an online security expert with McAfee, told ABC News. "It’s beyond important to back up."
Honan wishes he’d heeded that advice.
"Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn’t have had to worry about losing more than a year’s worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter," he said.
There’s a lot to learn from this tale. Much like we learned at a young age not to talk to strangers, and to avoid dark alleys late at night, and to trust that feeling in our guts when something doesn’t feel quite right, we all need to learn to be more cautious when moving parts of our lives to the digital realm.
Let’s learn from Honan’s misfortune, and hope it never will happen to us.