No, seriously. When it comes to scary, nothing really can compare to cyber threats. I’ve seen plenty of sci-fi movies, and we all know that the end will come when the computers become self-aware. Until then, we simply have to contend with human attackers that use the Internet as their weapon of choice.
When it comes to Internet security, the “good guys” are always trying to stay one step ahead of the “bad guys.” First it was by creating secure websites (remember when we were all looking for the little padlock icon?). Then it was by adding security by making consumers jump through hoops in order to get onto a website.
While I appreciate the need to protect us from ourselves, about the only good security advancement I’ve seen is the one that recognizes my computer. Most of the free e-mail services have this down. If someone tries to log in to your Yahoo! account from Peru (yep, happened to my daughter), Yahoo! will immediately escalate to DEFCON 4 and shut down your e-mail until you confirm that you are who you aren’t. Or something like that.
Banks have gotten pretty savvy as well. Each time I buy a new computer and port over my logins and passwords, the bank sends me a text message to confirm that I’m logging in from a new device. It’s swift, easy, and seems to be a very smart way to check it’s me.
But somebody somewhere must have decided that if cellphones can be stolen, we need even additional security measures. Enter CAPTCHA (which stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”… gesundheit!). That’s the annoying and impossible “blurry word” invention courtesy of Carnegie Mellon. Apparently you have to be a computer genius to use CAPTCHA, because invariably when I am trying to get my Stanley Cup tickets over at Ticketmaster, my diastolic shoots up at least 30 points as I “try try again” to decipher those illegible made-up words and random numbers before my purchase times out and I lose my tickets to someone who obviously has better eyesight than I do.
Some gamers came up with the idea to replace CAPTCHA with a little game. Basically, you’ll see two fish, a banana and a porcupine floating around over a blue patch. The game tells you to put the fish in the sea, and—assuming you don’t mistake the porcupine for a sea urchin—you should be able to do this. The problem is that this thing is some sort of Flash technology, meaning it crashes more often than NASCAR.
By far the worst of the worst identity protector is the ridiculous Challenge Questions survey. Whoever came up with this idea literally should be dragged in front of a firing squad and asked who their favorite elementary school teacher was. If they answer with the same name they gave seven years ago, they don’t get shot!
Seriously! I have been locked out of my accounts so many times, it’s beyond madness. And you cannot answer just one question anymore. Today I had to register for something online and I had to answer four!!! Challenge Questions.
I seriously wonder if someone isn’t secretly coming up with these things just to fuck with us. Ergo…
My choices of Challenge Questions and why I couldn’t answer them:
What was the name of your favorite teacher?
This is one of those seemingly benign questions that can really screw you up when you need to answer it in six months or a year. Perhaps today I was reminiscing about my 103-year-old childhood piano teacher, who is very frail and probably won’t be with us much longer. But in six months, I will think about the Professor who turned me on… to Doctor Zhivago. (Get your minds out of my bedroom.)
This is a terrible challenge question because it lacks specificity. Who we remember today as meaningful from our past might not be the same person we think of when it comes time to answer the challenge question at a point in the future.
What was the last name of your third grade teacher?
This passes the specificity test, but even if we assume that there were no moves during the school year or that there weren’t co-teachers or the teacher didn’t get pregnant and there was a permanent substitute who replaced her and so on, this question breaks Cardinal Rule Number One for Challenge Questions. Never ask me to remember shit from my childhood. Hell, I have enough trouble remembering my son’s third grade teacher, and that was only two grades ago!
Who is your favorite character in a book?
I hate this question. It assumes you don’t read. Ever. As in at all. You started and stopped with The Cat in the Hat. Which was from your childhood. And you cannot remember if it was Thing 1 or Thing 2 that you preferred.
Seriously. I can tell you today my favorite character (well, no, I can’t actually, because I’ve read hundreds of books in my lifetime—I’ve even written a few—and have dozens of favorite characters). And I’ve no doubt that I will read more books and fall in love with new characters. Impossible Challenge Question.
Who is a memorable person from your childhood?
This is a combination of Cardinal Rule Number One with lack of specificity thrown in. I mean, Nixon was a memorable person from my childhood, but I don’t think I would remember that I put him down as the answer to this Challenge Question.
What was your childhood nickname that most people do not know?
First off, my name is Astrid. Any “nickname” I had was a bastardization created by bullies. And since the bullies made it up, they undoubtedly know it. That aside, isn’t the whole point of a nickname to be called that?!? Wouldn’t everybody know your nickname? Stupid Challenge Question.
What was the name of your first stuffed animal?
Pretty sure this is a childhood question. And pretty sure only my mom could answer it. Assuming she remember what toys were in my crib as an infant.
What was the year, make and color of your first car?
This Challenge Question is too specific. Sort of. I mean, assuming I can remember the year my first car was built (I can’t), does “your first car” mean the first car I bought for myself? Is it the car I learned to drive on (i.e. my parents’ car)? Is it the first car I actually spent a lot of time tooling around in (also my parents’ car) and think of as “my first car”? Oh, fuck it. You lost me on year of origin.
In what city or town did your mother and father meet?
I actually wanted to answer this, because it seemed easy. Chicago. But then I remembered that my parents actually met at the University of Illinois. And I don’t know where the fuck that is. Was. Is. Too easy to make a mistake.
Where does your nearest sibling live?
This is another false specific Challenge Question. It assumes that no one ever moves. Ever! I actually am fortunate with regards to this question as I have only one sibling. But let’s assume I have two and the one who lives closest moves farther than the other sibling. That would make the answer different than what you originally said. And since my sister owns two houses (one outside DC and one in Wasilla), I think you can appreciate that I probably would never be able to answer this Challenge Question with certainty.
In what town was your first job?
TADAH!!! I finally was able to answer this question. Fortunately, my first job, which was babysitting, was in the same town where I first went to work (at a Five & Dime). No way I could get this wrong. One Challenge Question down, three to go.
What was your dream job as a child?
What’s with the childhood questions? Before lunch I wanted to be an Olympic Gymnast. After lunch I wanted to be an Actress. By the time dinner rolled around, I’m pretty sure Doctor was on the menu. Stop asking questions about childhood recollections!
What was your favorite toy when you were a child?
What is the name of your grandmother’s pet?
My grandmother is dead (both of them, in fact). If she (they) has (have) a pet, it is something out of a Stephen King novel and I don’t want to know its name.
What was your least favorite subject in school?
Now, this is gonna come as a shock to the people over at Challenge Questions Central, but I actually liked being educated. I didn’t have a least favorite subject. I could probably put “gym,” but I’m guessing I would over think this when it came time to answer and decide that “gym” isn’t a real subject, so I would put down Earth Science or something like that. Which is not an answer I’d ever remember.
What was your favorite person from history?
Because, you know, history never repeats itself. Yesterday is history.
And a person is a Who not a What.
Stupid Challenge Question.
Who was your best man or maiden of honor at your wedding?
Again, presupposes I got married (guilty) and that I had a wedding (not guilty). N/A.
[Edited: As my lovely cousin Lisa points out, this question also assumes you were only married once! Come to think of it, you also have to choose between your best man and your maiden of honor, so that's two people already!]
What is the brand of your favorite household appliance?
Oh, sure, I guess I can answer this one: WHAT THE FUCK.
What was your favorite childhood game?
No no no no no no no no no no no.
What are you most afraid of?
But even with the two snarky answers (which I won’t remember when the time comes), I still had to come up with yet one more answer… I went with Chicago. But I know I’ll never remember the answers when the time comes to type a response (lower case? UPPER CASE? I’ll settle for basket case!).
I guess it’s time to start a Google doc with all my Challenge Questions and answers. And then hope nobody hacks into that!