These days, you’re not important unless your email’s been hacked. Naturally, I’ve been hacked and now my most personal missives are online, available for anyone to read. So I figure I’ll get out ahead of this and explain a few of the emails that I expect might (unnecessarily!) generate the most fury, public outrage and low-level criminal charges. I never intended these emails for public consumption, so you’ve got to read them with that in mind.
For instance, when I confided to my editor, “The people who read my column are idiots, the dumbest of the dumb, subliterate subhumans who should be air-dropped in Antarctica and fed to carnivorous penguins,” I was joking. See, around my house, I’m always kidding about stuff like that, and those are terms of endearment. “Rarrr! I’m gonna feed you to the bloodthirsty penguins!” I say to my kids, and we all laugh. It just doesn’t sound that way when you read it as a transcript exactly as I wrote it and in context with lots of other horrible things.
Now, on the email concerning my displeasure with Ashley Madison’s customer service, I’ll just say that they’ve turned things around but still have a long way to go. My listing read, “If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the Cape, I’m the love that you’ve looked for. Write to me and escape.” And guess who responded? My wife! It turned out I had no idea that she also liked piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. So funny. Anyway, now we’re divorced and I live in an Extended Stay America next to the highway.
No hacking would be complete without nude photos, and I’m proud to say that my hackers found plenty of those. The unusual thing is that they were photos of me, taken by me and sent to myself. I figured that with that sort of closed loop, I could experience the thrill of receiving nude selfies without inconveniencing anyone else. But as usual my plans went awry, and now I’m on public-health billboards in Ecuador warning about the dangers of not getting enough vitamin D. Throughout South America I’m now affectionately known as “Pálido Idiota,” which I guess is some sort of pet name.
On the emails concerning my interactions with a certain fast-food restaurant, let’s just say up front that “blackmail” is a pretty strong word, and one that doesn’t necessarily apply to the situation here. I never said that I’d definitely tweet a photo of a toenail in my milkshake if I didn’t get a free lifetime supply of Crazee Cheezr’z Dippin’ Stix. Perhaps I implied that. But there’s an important difference between implying and doing. Think about those signs that say you can’t have any open wounds if you’re going in the hot tub. That’s implying. Most people don’t understand the difference.
Now that I’ve cleared up a few things, I have some advice on how you can avoid befalling a similar fate. First, beware of “phishing,” which is the technique that worked on the DNC and me and 78 percent of the nation’s aunts. Phishing is when a hacker goes to a farm in Maine to eat mushrooms and dance in place while listening to a song that lasts for 14 hours. When the tasty groove finally ends, he sends out an email that says, “Click this link to change your password because you’ve been hacked!” And then your mom or uncle or whoever clicks the bogus link, right before forwarding along an email about how thieves are disguising themselves as gas pumps and then stealing your credit card, so never pull up to the pump that’s by itself halfway down the I-95 offramp. Because that’s how they get you! Meanwhile, your mom just granted email access to the North Koreans, who are going to be amazed to learn about this gas pump thing. Why hasn’t it been on the news? Because they don’t want you to know about it, that’s why. You’re only going to hear about this stuff from trusted sources, like that guy Tom you used to work with 15 years ago.
If you’re really serious about avoiding hacking, you need to “air gap” your network, which means physically isolating it. Put your phone and computer in a safe; then move to Alaska and start a new life as Jethro Jones, a hardscrabble Bering Sea fisherman just trying to make a living in a declining industry. Eventually, Jethro too will be hacked via his e-cigarette, and then it’s off to Fort Lauderdale to become a bank teller named Tammy. You’ve got to stay one step ahead. It’s you against the world, and you’ve got no choice but to eat, sleep and breathe cyber-security.
Or you could just not write any emails that you’d be embarrassed about people seeing.