Why Ego Helps the Hackers

I’ve been hacked. The other day, hundreds of spam, ‘phishing’ messages were sent out as DMs, completely unbeknown to me, to my followers on Twitter. Very irritating for them, and eventually so many were sent that the DM feature on my Twitter account was paralysed. Thanks to a swift response from both the ever-helpful @SuzanneCollier and from Twitter, the problem is – I hope – now resolved.How had this happened? How had an anonymous computer programme got its virtual fingers into my password-protected account? I have to confess that I was duped by a similar DM I’d received that morning, appearing to be from one of my contacts. Excuses such as ‘I couldn’t see the interface properly on my iPhone’, ‘I didn’t really read the message’ and ‘a virus must have just burrowed its way into my account’ are plausible (just!), but if I’m honest, not applicable in my case. What drew me in was the message itself. “When I saw this about you I could not stop laughing ha ha”. This was followed by a web link, which later turned out to be sinister and powerful enough to spam everyone who follows me. With even the briefest of pauses for analytical thought, logic would have told me that this particular contact, with whom I’m not in very regular correspondence and with whom my relationship is professional rather than chummily silly, would not in a million years have sent me this message. And if the million years were up, and he I were bent over our respective screens, haggard and grey beyond reason, and he had in fact sent me the message, he would have written and punctuated it more elegantly.

What happened was that my ego kicked in and eclipsed any such rational considerations. I wanted to see what he’d seen about me. I was curious as to the amusing turn my online image seemed to have taken. Again, I could offer dissembling platitudes here about ‘needing to monitor my personal brand’. But the truth is I couldn’t resist peeking, for no other reason than I wanted to see what had been written about me online. I’d never have clicked through to an unknown sales link, but the lure of attention on me me me was too strong to withstand. If someone told you they’d seen you on TV, say in the background of an ad or a documentary, would you take a look? My betting is that many of us would. There’s something irresistible in seeing ourselves mirrored as others see us, and now we have the parallel world of online reality, it’s a much more common occurrence. So vanity clicked that link and in doing so, my ego unwittingly opened the door to the hackers. And judging by the involuntary DMs I’ve received from other Twitter friends, I’m not the only one whose ego represents a blind spot in online security …

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