I consider myself fairly savvy when it comes to technology. I update my laptop religiously, work on my iPad, iPhone, and iMac, make Chromebooks sing, and even, yes, navigate Microsoft Windows if I need to. I manage three websites and a Medium page. All without major mishap, well, most of the time.
The one major mishap I’ve had recently occurred last week. I was logging into my website when, to my surprise, my password simply failed to work. I was stunned. I’d been logging in to check my site for years, and I am fanatical about keeping track of my passwords whenever they change, so this really kind of rocked my world. I tried every variation I could think of, yes, even with the capital letters and special characters. The more I tried, the more I was rejected, the more frantic I became. It had to be this version. No, maybe it was this one. Could it be this one from 1992? But all the time I was doing this I had the sneaky suspicion that it wasn’t me, that I hadn’t forgotten such an important thing.
Then it hit me…maybe I’ve been hacked.
I mean, why not? My site is, after all, a hotbed of e-commerce and radical foment. Who wouldn’t want to peek under the hood of something this controversial and mine it for all it’s worth?
Yeah, I know. Right. I reached that same conclusion, but hey, you never know. People get hacked all the time, and it’s often for far less compelling reasons than the ones I have listed. It didn’t make me feel any better, though, once I got it through my head that this site is probably no hacker’s Holy Grail, that I still couldn’t access my site. I had people to reach. Thoughts to expunge. Oratory to orate. What was I to do?
I admit I didn’t want to, but what I did next I felt was absolutely necessary. I contacted my hosting company. They gave me some pretty honking good advice, too, that included changing the password via cPanel, a sort of backend dashboard for your site. Which would have been fine and dandy had the instructions not included navigating to a place called phpMyAdmin, clicking on a tree of folders, then making edits to the wp_users folder, all of which needed to happen in the least user friendly interface for non-programmers I have ever seen. It kind of reminded me of my UNIX days when I stumbled around a mainframe and pretended that I actually knew what I was doing, all the while praying I wouldn’t bring the whole college computer system down with one errant keystroke. Frustrated, I begged my ISP tech gurus to reset the password, which they happily did.
And here I am writing on my blog again, good old Ozymandias trying to keep it straight that the world I create online is way more fragile than I’d like to think it is. The tech world may present us with a smiling, warm facade most of the time, replete with the illusion of security and solidity, but underneath that softly glowing exterior lurks a complicated, confusing, unforgiving code monster. One wrong move under the hood and the wheels will most assuredly come off (I wonder how many metaphors I can throw in here?). One mistake can bring it all down and grind it to a halt.
It’s kind of like the tower of Legos I was building with my granddaughter the last time she came for a visit. No, really, it is, trust me. I used lots of blocks, made the tower really high, and I balanced it perfectly. But when she knocked it over– I just knew she was going to, she had that look in her eye that two year olds get when they’re ready to unleash the chaos on you– it all came tumbling down. Our tech worlds are like that. We pile high the layers of connectedness in our digital lives– social media, blogs, work accounts, GMail, spreadsheets, the works– but when something as unforeseen as the loss of a password rears its ugly head, the whole tower comes crashing down. It’s just that simple.
I have no real message to impart here, no words of wisdom gleaned from the experience. I know I didn’t forget my password, and I still question how I ended up being locked out. Maybe I will pursue it. Maybe I won’t. Like you, I’m really busy with all of the other ephemera of life. What I do know, or I should say what has been confirmed for me, is that despite the illusion of control, I really don’t have much. Things happen, and, yes, we can safeguard against them by saving passwords and backing up data, but the tower is still shaky, still vulnerable despite our best efforts.
One misplaced brick is all it takes and down they all come.
Stay safe, my friends, and keep track of your passwords!