Deal of the Week: Identity Theft
On Saturday, I and 50 million other LivingSocial customers received e-mail notices from company CEO Tim O'Shaughnessy telling us that we got more than we bargained for when we signed up to receive deals via the site. We got hacked.
Earlier in the week, our account details including names, e-mail addresses, birth dates, and encrypted passwords had been compromised. The e-mail told us that LivingSocial had already reset users’ passwords, mainly to force customers to create new ones. The note assured us that our credit card information was stored on a separate server that was not breached and thus did not fall into the attackers’ hands. Though LivingSocial also offered assurances that our stored passwords were encrypted, security experts laugh at the notion that a highly motivated hacker will be stymied by that barrier. What will the cyberthieves do with the information? PC World notes that they're not likely to run up a tab of discounted facials, massages or walking tours. “The bigger concern is what an attacker can do with your personal information,” the article notes. It warns customers to change their passwords on other sites if they made the all-too-common mistake of using a single password repeatedly. For its part, LivingSocial told us that “The security of your information is our priority. We always strive to ensure the security of our customer information, and we are redoubling efforts to prevent any issues in the future.” Have you ever noticed that no CEO ever sends out an e-mail that says, "We've never been hacked, but we're redoubling efforts anyway"?
The Glitch Shall Set You Free
Jailers at a lockup in Boyds, Md., were stunned on Tuesday and then again on Saturday when 500 cell doors suddenly opened as if by magic. Arthur Wallenstein, director of the Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, reported that no inmates tried to escape. Perhaps they were equally stunned. Wallenstein indicated that the malfunctioning jail doors popped open because of a computer glitch. On Saturday night, it took an hour to get the locks reset. Though the cell doors were functional by Sunday morning, technicians are still investigating the cause of the breakdown in the computer-controlled security system. Of the foul-up, which could have led to the greatest escape since Steve McQueen was making movies, Wallenstein said, “…any security door opening unexpectedly is a major security problem.” Thank you, sir, for the update.
And Another Glitch Shall Set You Free—From Jury Duty
You know how when you use an old version of a file, you lose all the changes? That's a little like the way 23 000 residents of Polk County, Fla., became, for all intents and purposes, excused from jury duty—they fell through the cracks amid a forestalled IT upgrade. Many in the group were potential jurors who reached age 18 after January 2010, when a computer juror selection list was last updated. On Tuesday, Polk County Clerk Stacy Butterfield revealed that an unknown number of additional county residents were left off the list because they moved into the area (or to a new address inside the county) since then, or got new state identification such as a driver license.
The whole thing started when a new, more secure jury selection system that wouldn’t store information such as Social Security numbers was being readied. It was slated to come online in 2010, but took a backseat when the county diverted the project's funding to other priorities. The new system was designed to be self-updating, but the old one, which the clerk’s office had continued to use, wasn’t. Apparently, the lack of an update escaped attention for three years.
Now defense lawyers are seizing upon the human-slash-computer error, saying the exclusion of part of the pool of potential jurors had an affect on the outcomes of their cases. Susan Rozelle, a professor at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa, told Lakeland, Fla.-based TheLedger.comthat, “The idea is that we will get more accurate results if the members of the jury come from different walks of life. People see things differently because of their experiences. If you cut out a group from the pool, you lose the perspective that group brings.”
Photo: Ross Mantle/AP Images
Willie Jones is an associate editor at IEEE Spectrum. In addition to editing and planning daily coverage, he manages several of Spectrum's newsletters and contributes regularly to the monthly Big Picture section that appears in the print edition.