Illustration: Luke Hayman/Pentagram, with Darrow
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We're running out of memory.
I don't mean computer memory. That stuff's half-price at Costco these days. No, I'm talking about human memory, stored by the gray matter inside our heads. According to recent research, we're remembering fewer and fewer basic facts these days.
This summer, neuroscientist Ian Robertson polled 3,000 people and found that the younger ones were less able than their elders to recall standard personal info. When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative's birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so. And when he asked them their own phone number, fully one-third of the youngsters drew a blank. They had to whip out their handsets to look it up.
That reflexive gesture — reaching into your pocket for the answer — tells the story in a nutshell. Mobile phones can store 500 numbers in their memory, so why would you bother trying to cram the same info into your own memory? Younger Americans today are the first generation to grow up with go-everywhere gadgets and services that exist specifically to remember things so that we don't have to: BlackBerrys, phones, thumb drives, Gmail.
I've long noticed this phenomenon in my own life. I can't remember a single friend's email address. Hell, sometimes I have to search my inbox to remember an associate's last name. Friends of mine space out on lunch dates unless Outlook pings them. And when it comes to cultural trivia — celebrity names, song lyrics — I've almost given up making an effort to remember anything, because I can instantly retrieve the information online.
Hackers for the first time are targeting the popular social networking site Facebook with a phishing scam that harvests users' login details and passwords.
Some Facebook users checking their accounts Wednesday found odd postings of messages on their "wall" from one of their friends, saying: "lol i can't believe these pics got posted.... it's going to be BADDDD when her boyfriend sees these," followed by what looks like a genuine Facebook link.
But the link leads to a fake Facebook login page hosted on a Chinese .cn domain. The fake page actually logs the victims into Facebook, but also keeps a copy of their user names and passwords.
Soon after, the hackers post messages containing the same URL on the public "walls" of the users' friends. The technique is a powerful phishing scam, because the link seems to be coming from a trusted friend.
"A lot of phishing is moving out of financial services and going to online web sites that have not installed stronger authentication, sites that are not as close to the money," said Marc Gaffan, who heads product marketing for security firm RSA's Identity and Access Assurance Group.
Thanks to the exploding popularity of social networking services -- and tightened security at financial websites -- fraudsters are targeting networking sites to make money in a number of ways, according to security experts.
Hackers can use the compromised profiles to host Trojan horses such as key loggers that go on to steal banking passwords and credit card numbers.
And since many people use the same logins and passwords on multiple sites, the hackers can also check if stolen Facebook credentials will log them into eBay or Amazon, for instance.
And super-sneaky crooks may be interested in mining profiles for personal information that can be used to send carefully targeted spam or malware. If someone is listed as an NFL fan, for example, hackers may send him phony NFL messages to trick him into clicking a link or installing attached malware.
Dancho Danchev, an independent security consultant, said the hackers may be trying to harvest hundreds of accounts before embedding malware that automatically infects everyone who visits the infected profiles.
"If they register a phisher.cn domain they would have to advertise it so people will come across and get infected, (but) if they get access to profiles where people will return for sure, they won't reinvent the wheel," he said. "Moreover, they do internal spamming for the usual pharmaceuticals and porn stuff automatically."
Danchev has been tracking scammers using similar Chinese .cn domains to target MySpace user accounts, he said. "The common stereotype that it's all about the money is true in this case, because they will either embed the malware, or sell the accounting data to someone else who would do it," he said.