top of page

The Wild West

Last weekend we watched "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" on Netflix. Hilarious and quirky. A quintessential Coen brothers dish. Closer to home, my phone is turning into the wild west.

I am extremely careful about sites I visit on my phone (and laptop for that matter) and have only recently started to pay with my phone. I don't even loan my laptop or phone to others for surfing for fear of where they might travel. My Amex has been compromised twice this year but that was easily rectified with a phone call and a replacement card. Identity theft, on the other hand, will propel me to the stone age at light speed.

There is so much personal information on my phone that if it were to get hacked, I would be toast.

Lately, a "you have won" pop-up is appearing in my mobile browser. I have to kill Safari because I can't navigate my way out of this dreadful pop-up. My heart skips a beat when that happens. During the recent election season, I received texts from people I don't know imploring me to vote blue. My enthusiasm about grassroots activism was tempered by the unease about who has my phone number and where it was going next.

Consider that 8+ trillion (trillion!) text messages will be sent this year alone. A vast majority of spam messages originate from network unaffiliated virtual operators (NUVOs) making it impossible to pin them to a real phone number. As a result, the big telecom companies are unable to trap these messages. The end result is that 69% of cell phone users received spam this year which amounts to a mere 4B messages.

Here's the global spam volume as a percentage of total email traffic. The numbers for text spam will be similar, if not worse.

Scary stats but I stayed calm...

...until yesterday...when the dreaded thing happened. I received my first racy text from an unknown number.

I know you are rolling your eyes and asking: where have you been on your phone?!

If I were surfing racy sites, the techie in me would totally understand that my risky behavior was directly correlated to the appearance of this offensive text. But I don't go to weird sites. I don't text random people. Heck, I won't even respond unless I recognize your number. I don't open emails I don't recognize. I don't answer calls from people I don't know. I never click on untrusted links. Automatic downloads are turned off. And I got off social media to hang on to the shreds of privacy I still have. Or think I have.

So, the arrival of this text means that a bot has my phone number and this "thing" is going to bombard me, or worse yet, its handlers will sell my phone number on the dark web. Ugh! I can't control this beast, but let me tell you the many ways we expose ourselves to this digital wild west.

1. Do you frequently use unsecured public wifi. Think hotel rooms, coffee shops.

2. Is your phone locked with the default passcode? Kanye West, case in point.

3. Do you use contactless credit cards that you wave at devices to pay and they are in a non-protected wallet?

4. Do you often charge your phone at charging kiosks?

5. Is your bluetooth on all the time?

6. Does your WhatsApp automatically download the millions of forwards that people send without even looking at them?

7. Do you hesitate to keep your phone's operating system updated?

8. If an unknown number calls, does a primal instinct force you to immediately call back to see who it was?

9. Do you feel compelled to click on links in emails, texts, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, etc.?

10. Is your "find phone" turned off?

If you answered yes, a singing cowboy named Buster Scruggs is getting ready to visit you, wielding his gun in ways you didn't think possible, arriving on horses owned by NUVOs.

If you answered no to all of these, then I don't know what to say. I still got that racy text.

bottom of page