??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So I’m at the IGA checkout buying three or four organic items, as you do. The young woman behind the till has a Trainee badge on her shirt. “Plastic bags?”

“It’s OK, I brought my souvenir Fred Smith ‘Dust of Uruzgan’ cotton bag,” says I, with a subtle hint about a splendid house concert coming up on the 29th of March.

“Community benefit number?”

“Umm, it starts with a 2…”

“Savings or credit?”

“Credit,” I say, as it is four more days until the Centrelink payment hits the bank account. I sneak a look at a card inside my wallet where several pins are cleverly disguised as phone numbers. I know, I know, the banks tell you never to do that – in fact, if my account gets hacked, some clever Johnnie at Bobsbank will be on to me, claiming poor card security on my part – and he may have a point.


Pardon? Oh, yes. Surprise – it works.

“Extra cash out?”

“Well, if you’re handing it out, yes.”

She has a literal sense of humour – frowns and thinks to herself, “He’s just like my Dad, always a joke or a pun and he expects you to get it every time.”

So I leave the Supermarket and head to the Post Office, only then remembering I parked behind the IGA. It’s a fairly new car and it looks like every other faux four-wheel drive on the road today. “What’s the Rego number?” I say, searching my memory bank, but the bank’s empty.

And now I have become a “webmaster” which these days can be applied to anyone who bought WordPress for Dummies and just jumped in (as I did).

One of the major drawbacks of being in charge of a website is that you need to know and maintain a half-dozen logins and passwords, all of them combinations of letters, numbers and symbols, with the aim of keeping eastern European hackers from turning your pretty little folk music website into a den for Hot Russian Brides.

At last count I had 63 logins and passwords stashed away in a “secure” corner of my computer and another 130 logins, account numbers and passwords on an electronic diary guarded by a master password. In case I get sudden early onset, I have scribbled that master password down for She Who Knows Where To Look. (Don’t count on it – I have enough trouble remembering where mine are. Ed)

About five years ago when it because apparent that this could be a problem, I made a spreadsheet, pasted it to a word document and copied it on to a CD. Unhappily, I password-protected the word document then forgot the password! Alas, it seems the only password-protected document types which can’t be opened by password-busting programs like Brute Force are simple word document passwords. This I know, because in a fit of Scorpio-like secretiveness I password-protected a 56,000-word novel I was working on and now can’t open it because I forgot the password. I think it was about losing your memory.

Transactions over the internet are becoming more and more common for the majority of us. When was the last time you received a bill in the mail and either mailed a cheque or walked down to the Post Office to pay in cash? A whitegoods repair guy came and did a job on our dishwasher recently, then emailed the invoice to She Who Knows Where To Look, who promptly got on to internet banking and paid the money into his bank account.

The good things about this kind of transaction – they’re quick, easy, and there’s an electronic paper trail if there’s a dispute. The bad thing is that every day we hop on to the Internet, we run the risk of having someone with IT skills and bad intentions gain access to our bank account, investments and phone and computer accounts. Not to mention Centrelink, the Australian Tax Office and Medicare, all of whom are hell bent on having us create an online account and a complex password so we can logon to update the data that (a) they should be updating and keeping secure and (b) should be keeping people in jobs.

If you have become drawn into the online way of doing things, consider having a periodic house-cleaning. The first thing to do is unsubscribe from lists you don’t want to be on. Sometimes this is not as easy as it ought to be. I recently bought a book from an online bookshop which kept sending newsletters and other exciting announcements about “specials” when I clearly do not recall ticking the boxes to say I wanted them.

To unsubscribe from this list I had to log on (with my password), and go through several steps to get off their pesky list. This is a bad way to do business, as is the tactic of pre-selecting choices that you as the consumer should be free to make.

When we flew to north Queensland for Christmas, I hired a car, not noticing that the option to purchase a 7-day travel insurance policy was pre-ticked.

In the interim, She Who Approaches Such Matters with More Caution had already bought a travel insurance policy elsewhere (with a Seniors’ discount). The car hire company did cancel the policy and refund me, but it underlines how careful you need to be online.

There is a protocol when you send out emails to more than 20 or 30 friends, as I do every week. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) require you to advise recipients that if you don’t want to be on the list, just email back “unsubscribe”.

If someone wants to unsubscribe, I just open my Excel spreadsheet and delete the person’s name and email address. I suspect that this does not happen when you decide you don’t want to hear from Cheap and Nasty Hotel

The electronic database is a scary thing – your local takeaway pizza joint, for example, has your home number, mobile number, home address, probably your email address and, moreover, whether you are susceptible to up-selling (do you want Pepsi-Max and garlic bread with that?).

Our email addresses, home addresses, full names and DOBs are floating around inside dozens of databases, hardly any of which have ASIO-level security in place. Increasingly this data is being exported to the “cloud,” a nebulous place where organised crime is busy working out how to make said cloud rain money.

Web browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox aim to make things easy when you’re online. You can choose to save your passwords on your computer and the Web browsers slot them in as required. But I was horrified to find just the other day, that you can not only open the place on your PC where these logons and passwords are stored, you can also make them visible! I was less unhappy when I found you can’t select-all and copy or print the list out.

Or so they reckon!

Ah, just what your cash-strapped Grade 10 kid with advanced computer skills and a dope habit was looking for – go to that old writer fella’s PC – he never locks up.

One Comment

  1. Don’t worry Bob – it is only going to get worse.

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