While we will never be able to fully stop internet piracy, there is one fact that should reassure those who are scared of internet theft: most people do not give a crap about you.
This past week there was a surge of people who posted a swatch of legalese to their Facebook walls declaring their copyright to their Facebook walls. Unneeded for two reasons: 1) your copyright is implied automatically and 2) nobody wants your photos of your brunch. Honestly, it's all yours.
People who are extra paranoid about their personal data being mined remind me of people who not only believe in past lives, but that they were SOMEONE COOL in a past life. "I was a priest in a past life, someone who guarded secrets," my neighbor Nan would whisper when I collected for my paper route (I assume my collections were some of her few opportunities for conversation). "I still have that power." Nan wore paper shoes, had a living room that smelled like glue and I presume never entertained the notion that in the past life she was someone who sat around wondering who she was in past lives.
Your information is safe, generally, if only because no one is looking for it. The diplomatic name for this strategy is "security through obscurity" and it tends to work well even in real life. For example: over a six month period I once locked myself out of my Brooklyn apartment three different times. To remedy this I 1) made sure a friend had a copy of my keys, 2) kept another copy in my bag and 3) stopped locking my door.
Robbers in New York City come in through windows that are on fire escapes. So I locked and barred that window, but left my apartment door completely unlocked. The front door of the building remained locked, but not my interior front door. Number of robberies over a two year period: zero. Number of times I got in despite forgetting keys: an embarrassing number of times.
You think: "Hey, now that I know you keep your door unlocked I'm going to come rob you!" But you won't, because you're going to stop thinking about me in the next ten seconds because I am not you. And even if you do continue to want to rob me: I live in Brooklyn. I can't even get my direct blood relatives to come to Brooklyn, never mind a casual amateur thief.
The other side of this coin is that if someone targets you specifically to find out your info, they are going to be able to do it. In the war of locks vs. lock-pickers, the lock-pickers win in the end. The key is not having better locks, but having nothing curious on the other side of the door. Do what you can to make people uninterested in you, which is easy, since human beings by default are not interested in other people.
Being boring is the best defense. Rather than a deadbolt, if you want to protect your apartment just hang a sign that says "Math Inside."
Although strong passwords are better than weak ones, people can't remember weak passwords either, which means they won't steal them. Have you ever told someone a password to type in? No one can do it on the first try. At an old office job, the password on my computer was WillHines meaning it was my name without spaces, and only the initials capitalized. My co-workers, when they would need to get into my computer, could not type that correctly even as I spelled it to them. I'd say "capital W" and they would say "wait, CAPITAL W?" and I'd say "yes, capital W" and this would go on for minutes. The best thing making your password good is that people cannot remember words.
"Security through obscurity" on the internet foils people every day. Some time ago I was doing my (tragically) routine check of what happened to girls I had a crush on in high school. And I remembered a cute girl I knew named Sue Brown, and googled her name. Spoiler alert: it is immensely hard to find someone with a common name online. If you want to really protect your online identity change it to something that will blend in. I suggest Google Mortgage Timberlake.
Yes, hacking happens! But USUALLY in amazingly non-hurtful albeit annoying ways. Some spambot figures your twitter password and sends all your friends @-messages about a great new mortgage deal or genital extension program. Everyone sends you slightly-smug messages that YOU'VE BEEN HACKED and you change your password, send out apology messages and go back to getting your genitals extended. No real foul.
And I know there are occasions of real thievery people losing their credit card numbers to someone who runs up thousands of dollars of charges. It's scary, intrusive and morally wrong. It's also generally fixed with a few phone calls to your bank. It's not worth having passwords a million letters long, refusing to buy things online and hiding in your apartment with the lights out, staring through your venetian blinds for the enemies you imagine are stalking you. Unless you're a for-real famous person let's say at or higher than the Jim Parsons level.
We live in the Age of Information. In the future, there is going to more information available, not less. People will post their credit card numbers ON their twitter, and just get a new one every week. Politicians will not only confess to their affairs, but upload them to YouTube and email their supporters to click "like." We are all going to be filmed twenty-four hours a day with chips in our head that track our every move. And the only thing keeping us safe will be no one will watch.
Stock photos from Shutterstock