I had a Myspace blog.
I’m not proud of it. Look, we’ve all made mistakes when we were young. Everybody was doing it. There was a time when the site was so popular that it was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Co-founder Tom Anderson, whose smiling photograph greeted every new Myspace user as their brand new friend at sign-up, famously travels the world taking beautiful landscape pictures and enjoying his life. Myspace, meanwhile, has plummeted in value over the years. Despite several attempts to redesign it, it remains largely irrelevant. Many users would be shocked to learn that it still exists at all.
And some of them have had their passwords stolen.
If you’ve had a Myspace account lying fallow since the migration of Myspace users to other social media platforms (like Facebook and Twitter), your username and password combination may have been stolen. Brian Barrett, writing for Wired, reports that “your old Myspace account just came back to haunt you. … You may have left Myspace and its indie bands behind years ago, but Myspace hasn’t forgotten you. Or rather, it hasn’t forgotten your password, which is unfortunate, because it just revealed that a hacker stole username and password information from what could be more than 360 million accounts.”
According to Barrett, more people are affected than one might think. Accounts created prior to June 2013, when the site redesigned its security and tried to reinvent itself as a music platform, are affected. “It may be hard to remember now,” Barrett continues, “but Myspace was once hugely popular, as evidenced by [hack-tracking site] LeakedSource’s findings that 360,213,024 user records are in the data set – 111,341,258 of which have an associated username.” If you, like many people, tend to reuse the same username and password, your other accounts are now vulnerable, and your email, password, and username combinations could well be listed on some hacker site on the Web.
“It’s unlikely that anyone will break into your zombie Myspace page,” concludes Barrett. “[T]he company has invalidated user passwords for all affected accounts, and didn’t store credit card or other financial info anyway. The bigger worry, though, is that MySpace didn’t protect passwords with much rigor prior to 2013, meaning that if you use the same username and password combo on any other sites today as you did for social networking in 2007, you’re at risk. It’s also concerning just for the sheer volume of the hack; if LeakedSource is correct, this would be one of the largest breaches ever. That it comprises mostly old Myspace accounts also presents another problem: Who remembers the password they were using several years ago on a long-ignored platform? It’s hard to change a compromised password if you don’t even know what it is, which means that to feel truly safe, you should probably change any password you’ve been using for a long time across multiple services. Also, stop using the same password across multiple services.”
Back in 2013 (when the Myspace hack occurred), Virginia Heffernan asked in Yahoo! News, “What will happen to the websites we abandon and leave to rot?” She points out that, at the time, the (faintly hilarious) website for the 1996 film “Space Jam” was still up, despite the fact that nobody’s cared about “Space Jam” for most of 20 years. “Our world is pocked and streaked with the remnants of old zeals,” she writes. “… Making sense – or making use, better yet – of forgotten spaces has become the preoccupation of many urbanists, landscape architects and designers who have had, in some cases, great success: In Paris, an abandoned railway track was transformed into the Promenade Plantée, an elevated greenbelt now covered in trellises. In Manhattan, a similar elevated green-space called the High Line opened, running along the path of an obsolete railway. But all this pertains to actual space. Will there ever be virtual-landscape architects to address incoherent and defunct digital spaces that proliferate like weeds this very minute?”
Three years ago, according to Heffernan, sites ranging from Bob Dole’s and John Edwards’ presidential campaign sites were still taking up space on the Web. Promotional sites for movies all but forgotten since are big offenders; because the big movie houses that established those sites are still very much a going concern, there’s no reason those Web spaces would necessarily be removed. Personal websites are less prone to this issue because when they’re no longer used, people tend to stop paying for them – but at least until recently, there was a slew of free sites cluttering the Web that would have existed forever had the free services not terminated. There was a time when to erect an awful Geocities site was to expect it to live on forever. Thanks to sites like The Wayback Machine, a lot of old websites that have been deleted can still be viewed (at least in part).
The digital archeology of our websites – the moot and the useless, the dead and the undead – can tell us much about where we’ve been. The things that seemed like good ideas (ranging from flash site intros and frames to dancing hamster .gifs) point to our fallibility as human beings. The things we’ve forgotten that only now come back to haunt us, like password thefts for accounts long discarded, are of greater worry. Everything on the Internet lives, at least potentially, forever. It cannot be deleted. It cannot be revised. It can be appended; but everything we have ever uploaded will potentially follow us, in some form, forever … and in many cases long after we ourselves have left this world.
It’s a sobering thought that transcends concerns about password security. We are even now leaving behind debris in a digital landfill. That debris will never break down. It will never vanish. It will remain for as long as the Internet exists – and what it will tell us about our past might surprise us 10 and 20 years hence.
Media wishing to interview Phil Elmore, please contact [email protected].