Computers new WMD?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bit tired of this.

I’m talking about the increasing frequency of announcements that yet another database containing my personal information has been breached.

First it was Target, then Anthem. Last week I learned that the company that stores records for one of my doctors was hacked and that my personal information and medical records were accessed.


I’ll take the blame for the Target breach. Shame on me for using my debit card at a retail outlet when I could have paid cash and avoided the situation.

But what choice do I have when it comes to my health insurance company or my doctor’s office?

“Excuse me, but could you please keep my records off computer servers? I’d prefer you keep them somewhere safer, perhaps on paper charts, in manila folders, in your office, where some guy in China can’t see them on his laptop.”

When my wife and I were buying a car recently, the dealership’s finance guy tried to check our credit and couldn’t. That’s because after the Anthem breach we put freezes on our credit with the three reporting agencies.

To buy the car, we had to go online and remove the freezes long enough for the dealership to access our credit reports, then put the blocks back in place. Inconvenient, but necessary.

During a recent PBS documentary about the development of the atomic bomb, various historians talked about how the new weapon changed the world forever and even today has the power to destroy it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if someday my grandchildren watch a documentary about the development of computers and how they changed the world forever. Unless, of course, by then we’ve already used computers to destroy ourselves.

My granddaughters spend much of their time staring at their phones and tablets. Whenever I ask what they are doing, they reply, “Playing a game.”

Yes, computers are all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

A recent news report showed how hackers were able to access a car’s computer system and wrest control away from the driver.

When you stop and think about just how much of our lives we’ve turned over to machines, it’s a bit frightening. Whenever I climb into my new car, it connects with my cellphone via Bluetooth. Convenient, but a bit unnerving.

That same cellphone allows other machines to track my movements. If I go online and look at a widget on Amazon, suddenly ads for similar widgets start to pop up on every website I visit.

I’m using a computer to type this column. Without computers we’d be unable to produce the newspaper you’re reading.

If all these data breaches have taught us anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a “secure” computer system. And while I would prefer that nobody have access to my personal information, that’s not what keeps me awake at night. Frankly, I gave up personal privacy as a lost cause a long time ago.

What really scares me is that while we’re all playing Words With Friends or Candy Crush on our smartphones and tablets, and sharing our lives on social media, others in the world are quickly turning computers into weapons of mass destruction perhaps as deadly as the atomic bomb.

Perhaps we should worry less about Iran gaining access to a nuclear bomb and more worried about Iran gaining access to our computer servers.

Stealing credit card numbers from Target or personal information from a health insurance company is annoying for sure.

But what happens when more ambitious and hostile hackers figure out how to crash the U.S. power grid or gain access to the air traffic control system?

At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union knew that they had enough nukes to destroy each other several times over. While frightening, this knowledge also tended to keep anyone from getting trigger happy.

For the last 70 years we have avoided eliminating mankind with nuclear weapons. One can only hope we don’t end up destroying it with computer code.

I also hope that a server somewhere has not read this column and determined me to be a threat. It might shut down my computer so I can’t finish writing thi