November 19, 2014

MILIAN | Lifehack #1: Protect Yourself, Don’t Get Hacked

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I was hacked. Which is so crazy! Who would ever want to hack into my accounts? All that they would find is snarky columns about my time in Europe and starving Neopets. They’d have to spend so much time feeding them to proper health and that would be such a hassle. Even I don’t remember my Neopets password, so maybe it’s a good thing I was hacked. But yeah, apparently being a savvy Millennial with a “strong” password that have at least one character and number, I was hacked somewhere in Italy. The “free” wifi network didn’t even work! All I wanted was to post some photos of me eating my weight in pasta, but I guess that warrants a full invasion of privacy in this country.

And what an invasion it was! My virus-laced email was sent to everyone, from the Assistant Dean of the Law School, to every member of the Big Red Bands. While I was delightfully snoozing on a train from Venice to Bologna, my fellow Cornellians were fighting à la The Matrix with this spam email. It was legitimately scary when some of the adults who got the email thanked me for the file and said they’d see it in a bit.  I can’t even begin to express the embarrassment of sending 25-plus emails apologizing for my incubus of electronic viral invasion. Even Financial Aid thought it was a legitimate message, and who knows what would have happened to the hacked Cornell bank accounts.

So while my ego inflated from the “power” of my personal Cornell network, I balked at all the people who unknowingly trusted my viral message and thought it was a legitimate message. It felt like a post-dystopian spy film, where people willingly trust their friends and get betrayed in a dramatic plot-twist. Which is what this column is all about. Not surprising plot-twists like in Gone Girl, but about security and protection in the digital age.

While my COMM professors will swear that I’m quoting one of their classes, protection surpasses any of our classes taught at Cornell. It’s not just about protecting your GMail account or your Snapchat password, but about protecting your heart too. The heart is a very fragile organ — 10 out of 11 premeds say it’s important to remember this fact for their prelim. The other one is too busy sleeping in the cocktail lounge to remember this made-up factoid.

Joking aside, it’s important to protect yourself, in all aspects of the word. Protect yourself from the harsh Ithaca elements by buying a warm (but stylish) peacoat (no more North Faces or Canadian Goose Jackets please). Protect your lymphatic system by getting some NyQuil and healing your throat. And, lastly, protect your heart from people who want to play with it. Don’t let anyone play with it for that manner, it’s yours alone to share it, so keep it safe. Like Elsa said, “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” And while she learned that repressing your feelings was a bad idea, there’s definitely some worth to being safe about your inner thoughts.

While one’s interior monologues are a safe performance for your best friend (complete with Pad Thai and an episode of Orphan Black), it’s important to divulge as little or as small of information as possible to your outer ring. The last thing you want is being the pity party of your friend group, the martyrs or the living soap opera of typical undergrad problems. As a generation, we’re very into openness. As digital exhibitionists, we love to tell everyone what we’re eating, what we just saw on TV and what flavor peanut butter we are (gotta love those Buzzfeed quizzes). And this is not a bad thing: It’s how we stay connected to our friends, our digital scrapbooks of our lives. This openness isn’t just limited to social media, as East Coast college students, we live in a very liberal culture and sometimes divulge more than we “should.” I mean, I’m published next to two sex columns for crying out loud. We take this openness for granted, as both young adults and Americans, and that’s when protection comes in. Or discretion at least. Free flow of communication is great until it’s taken advantage of, and then it bites us in our digital derrières.

As for the “protect your heart” mushy-gushy stuff, it’s really simple. All emotional experiences in this world are valid — and should be felt — but with consent only. No one is allowed to make you feel anything without your permission, and when intentions become harmful, that’s when you know you have to protect yourself. However, it’s not as easy as I’m making it out to be. Emotions are messy, amorphous and affect people with or without intent. The important thing is to know yourself well and know when it’s alright to let others in and when to shield yourself and be strong.

For my final aspect of protection, I ask you all to protect your belongings. While yes, excessive materialism is a horrid aspect of the human experience, we all love our iPhones too much and can’t function without them. I guess this applies a lot more to those of us traveling to new places, where sticky fingers often try to get a piece of the good ol’ US of A (someone please shut me up now). But even in the cold Ithaca bubble (snowglobe) things get stolen all the time. As a night desker for The Sun I compiled countless of police reports where computers, phone and even clothes were stolen from libraries and gym lockers. Really guys, clothes from Teagle? So gross. This proves that even in the ivory tower, protection is needed. Just watch your stuff, don’t assume someone doesn’t want your dead-skin cell-ridden belongings.

So take care of your passwords, hearts, clothes, friends, etc. While we all are happy with our “master password” that gets us access into everything, there’s a crippling fear that rushes in when that privacy is compromised. Same goes for our emotional sanity and our safe havens. The hassle of having to send apology emails or of having emotional turmoil or having to call the police is too much to add unto our stress-filled lives. For now I’m going to change my password, and I encourage you all to do so to! Make it a challenge for those pesky hackers.

Kevin Milian is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Milian Dollar Baby appears on alternate Thursdays this semester.