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Friday, February 26, 2010


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Cybersecurity, public disgrace and my day of infamy

Unintentionally, I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time on Saturday bearing witness to confessions. Not in person, but as an invisible audience.

First I picked up the newspaper and read Tiger Woods’ apology for his indiscretions. Then I headed out for a run with my iPod loaded with NPR podcasts which kicked off with an interview with Jenny Sanford, soon-to-be-ex-wife of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, on her new book about her husband’s infidelity.

As I ran, I kept mentally doing the math as far as how she wrote this book so fast. Mark Sanford’s public confession, as I was reminded several times during the interview, was June 24. It’s late February now and Ms. Sanford is in the thick of a publicity tour. Counting production time, that would mean she wrote the book in less than six months even if she started it the day of his confession, which she surely did not. Wow. That’s quick turnaround time for processing a lot of very hurt feelings and regenerating them in a literary format.

When the Sanford segment ended, my iPod transitioned seamlessly to the next podcast, which coincidentally enough was Terry Gross of Fresh Air interviewing Ken Gormley on his new book about the Kenneth Starr investigation leading to the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton. Gormley described the sequential build-up of small catastrophes within the Clinton administration: the Paula Jones lawsuit, the Whitewater papers, the possibility of an indictment for Hillary Rodham Clinton and then the confession by President Clinton about his affair with an intern. I tried to imagine for a moment what it must have been like to live at the White House during that time. One catastrophe brewing. Then another. And still another. Before even getting to the infidelity part, the feeling that ceiling planks kept crashing down onto your head, one by one.

Although the topic was far different from those of Gov. Sanford, Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton, little did I know I’d have my own brush with embarrassment, guilt and public disgrace before the day was over.

When I returned from running and turned on my computer, I discovered my email account had been hacked and every single one of my 500+ email contacts had apparently received an email from me with a Google link to a site in Canada selling sexual enhancement products.

I was mortified to think that distant cousins I hadn’t written to in over a year, my children’s teachers, former co-workers and every editor I’ve pitched a story to recently had received an email from me with a bad link. At least it wasn’t an attachment. I wasn’t actually spreading a virus, just advertising a product I had no intent to advertise.

Some of my contacts wrote back right away. A few of the responses just had question marks. Others wrote, “Does your computer have a virus?” (No, actually, I’ve signed on as a spokesperson for a Canadian pharmacy.) One friend who knows I occasionally write copy for a medical website thought I was showing off my latest professional accomplishments. And some acquaintances, who have forever earned a warm place in my heart, wrote “It’s no big deal. It happens to everyone at some point.” I’m assuming they were referring to my account being hacked when they said that and not the pharmaceutical nature of the email I inadvertently sent out.

So for the rest of the weekend, I had a tiny taste of what it felt like to experience public humiliation. Unlike the aforementioned adulterers, what happened to me really wasn’t my fault (although the cybersecurity company for whom I sometimes write copy for would surely disagree), but I had a glimpse of what it felt like to see my name associated with something so distasteful.

Now, like Tiger, the governor and the former president, I just have to swallow my embarrassment and hold my head high as I try to make amends. I think I’ve fixed the security breach and I very much hope it never happens again. I’m genuinely sorry and apologetic toward everyone who received the inappropriate email from me. I will try to make all of my future emails more insightful, important, pithy and useful than they have ever been before, in hopes of restoring my good name.

But when I go to sleep tonight, I know I’ll still be cringing with embarrassment. And dreaming of my email contacts swinging golf clubs and throwing subpoenas at me as they pursue me down the Appalachian Trail. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito