How to avoid being hacked

September 18, 2014, 11:55 AM UTC
Illustration by Jason Schneider for Fortune

Want to keep your data and identity safe? Here’s how.

First, stop sending emails and text messages. Your little missives right now are being scanned by bots and Morlocks and mined for all kinds of valuable personal ore, all the better to market to you, my dears. Every digital communi­cation you launch contains a hint to your identity that can be squeezed, stored, and exploited by soulless zombies dedicated to your harvesting. Not long ago, for instance, I wrote a note to a friend. “How you doing, dude?” I inquired. “WAX YOUR SURFBOARD!” immediately popped up in the advertising space to the right of my cordial e-greeting. So if you value yourself, start talking to people, on the phone if necessary but even better in person.

Next, go through every one of your programs, apps, and online destinations and select new passwords, not the limp little things you have wobbling between you and disaster right now, their teeny fists raised defiantly. Your new ones should comprise more than eight characters, with upper- and lowercase letters, a few numbers, and some special symbols. Something like this:


Do not, by the way, keep a list of the passwords, either on paper or in a file somewhere on your hard drive. Commit them all to memory, then change them every month and relearn them. In the case of truly sensitive and important ones, have a trusted significant other memorize them too.

Now immediately cease your foolish practice of shopping online by using your credit card—or by linking to your bank account, for goodness’ sake! Every time you purchase a song, a game, a load of groceries, a bowling ball, or lingerie for yourself or a loved one; every time you order a movie, book, or digital periodical, you are leaving a trail of goo behind you like a snail as it tries to make its way safely across a highway. If it’s in the cloud, it’s not allowed.

And, of course, stop paying your bills online. I mean, that’s just common sense. You’ll need to do all your transactions in the real world from here on in. Look for actual brick-and-mortar establishments that are still open. I’m sure you’ll find some if you try hard enough.

Once you’re out there, be smart. Do not use your credit card, especially at big-box stores. Recent incursions at Target and Home Depot are just the tip of the iceberg. Right now gnarled little gnomes in faraway rogue states are trolling the web for soft spots in our architecture, and finding them with frightening regularity. Don’t get caught in their web of deceit and larceny! Use cash again. Small bills. Nonsequential numbers.

And don’t get your green from an ATM. You’re not a dummy. You know that every time you dip your card, a piece of your digital ectoplasm rockets around the world and into the grasp of some creep who’s intent on destroying our way of life. Sure, it’s annoying. But don’t be too mad at them. Perhaps if we see them as disrupters, that will make us all feel better, particularly in the Valley, where they salute anybody who screws up somebody else’s business model.

And finally, keep in mind that every move you make, every step you take, they’ll be watching you. When you run a red light, or pay a toll with your E-ZPass, or argue with a friend in an elevator, or try to roll the body of your mother-in-law in a wheelie bag through the lobby of your luxury hotel, there are cameras recording your every move. If you truly want to be secure, you may need to put on that big rubber head of Yoda you got last Halloween and wear it around wherever you go. You can bet I’ve got mine.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Some of these little adjustments are a pain in the neck. But they’re a small price to pay for the kind of progress we’ve achieved in this new and innovative century, don’t you agree?

Follow Stanley Bing at and on Twitter at @thebingblog.

This story is from the October 6, 2014 issue of Fortune.