Computer security became a personal issue for Atlantic Monthly national correspondent James Fallows when his wife Deb's g-mail account was hacked. Bogus e-mails appealing for emergency money were sent to everyone on her contacts list, six years of mail, photographs, and records were deleted, and Mrs. Fallows was locked out of her own account. Exactly the same hack was perpetrated on one of my former students, and I recognized the format: I was mugged in Madrid . . Had that been her only harm,it would have been bad enough. But she had made the common error of using the same password for several different services, including bank and brokerage accounts. It is not certain how she was hacked, but it is most likely that her information was compromised in the well-known Gawker hack of 2010, in which more than a million e-mail addresses and passwords were stolen. In other words, Mrs. Fallows was no more culpable than most of us. Her husband helpfully describes the steps he used to recover most of her files and provides some excellent advice about how to minimize the damage when this happens to you.

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James Fallows

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, November 1, 2011