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Hackers heaven - Our devices and software humiliate us

The Chinese military wants to get inside the Times and your devices. Never mind the NY Times – for your own good, don’t open that PDF. A wide variety of hackers want access to our individual computers, tablets, and phones – even Apple and Facebook are not immune. We walk into an office products or computer store and our enthusiasm for the latest gadget is limitless -- they must be fast enough to view video or to surf bloated websites. So we watch a demo and walk out of the store hundreds of dollars lighter. If the sales rep doesn’t tell us what to buy (extra set-up, patches and updates, virus protection software) and we don’t know any better, we arrive home with our virus-ready, hacker-friendly technology, all set to make us look like idiots to our contacts and colleagues as we send fake emails and phony porn links.

Tech SKUs are unfinished on the shelf, worse than knock-down furniture. The basic utilities that are packaged with commercial and consumer devices are subject to broad-based attacks: the browsers and document content tools invite malware from across the globe. Email with or without attachments is a threat. Even up-to-minute OS releases and updates don’t assure smooth operation. Not all updates address security: many also repair functional issues. So tech geeks spend hours and effort to update and it still isn’t enough. But if you don’t update, your risks are magnified -- and our negligence is noticeable.

Device multiplication exacerbates the need for vigilance. Smart phones, the latest tablets, laptops, desktops (even automobiles) contain complex software components that are never complete, never 100% stable and increasingly challenging to master by the end-user – only 60% of adults agree to update when prompted by the software, and that's assuming it has been installed with a setting to prompt. Well-meaning organizations that want to help seniors connect – like libraries, volunteers in senior centers, and senior housing organizations that seeks a competitive edge – can be overwhelmed by tech that offers nothing more than a mediocre start at a safe-to-use solution.

Special care solutions are not enough -- manufacturers must change. The Geek squad strategy – asking the consumer to pay extra to fix problems after the fact -- is akin to closing the gate when the chickens are in the next state, and the computer or device is not, shall we say, the most state-of-the-art. Hardware vendors – it doesn’t matter which – need pressure from large enterprises that are struggling with BYOD employees (Bring Your Own Device). Let’s hope that the firms like Apple and Facebook get their own security houses in order and then set an example for others. Companies must do a better job of locking down their networks and devices -- and when they get it right, the rest of us in consumer-land can follow their lead. Until then, no need to use your imagination – nefarious nightmares await.