Note — This is the first of two three very different columns about what turns out to be the same topic.

I was driving back to college in my red 1966 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible when a pickup truck appeared before me on the two-lane road going perhaps 20 mph under the speed limit, which was to say 25 mph slower than me. I pulled into the opposing lane to pass him and the guy punched it, accelerating quickly to keep pace with me so I could neither pass him nor pull back into his lane without hitting him. My simple passing maneuver became a death race because now a third car was added to the mix, coming straight for me down the road. I tried to speed up to pass the truck but he stayed with me. I looked over and he was laughing, trapping me in the passing lane. So I stomped on the brakes and he did too! The other car was still approaching, slower now because he was also afraid. I came to a complete stop on the road and only then did the pickup resume speed, finally allowing me over. The guy was, as my Mom would say, an asshole. But if you think about it my behavior contributed to the peril. He had been lying in wait, but I had taken his bait.

What’s the admin ID and password on your home router? Leaving the factory they are all the same for each major ISP. You haven’t changed it, have you? If it’s a wired router some bad guy can start with a block of IP addresses and easily hack you. He probably has. If your router is wireless he can do it over the net or over the air. And we helped him by not changing our IDs and passwords (change both).  In this case the hacker is that guy in the pickup and — like me in the Olds — we’re fat, dumb, and happy.

In Palo Alto many years ago there was a $1 video rental shop on the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road. It later became a florist and now is something completely different. But back in the 1980s when VHS tapes rented for $3-5 per night, $1 rentals were amazing and the shop was packed with customers who driving past on their way to Hewlett Packard, Varian, or Syntex when they stopped for a copy of Lethal Weapon. The deal seemed almost too good to be true. It was too good to be true. The shop owners were gathering credit card numbers and one weekend a few months into their video business they extracted more than $1 million from Mastercard and Visa before skipping town forever.  Those of us who rented $1 videos without question enabled their crime.

How many passwords do you have? According to data security researchers,  you probably have a four-digit PIN you use for accounts where four digits are required and you have an eight-digit password you’ve been using for everything else for at least a decade. If I set up a web site offering a deal too good to be true, like say free online video rentals (just to make my point brutally clear) free games, or free horoscopes, or maybe a free VoIP phone account or even a free IP proxy service to let you cheat and watch the BBC iPlayer, what password will you give for that account?

Why your ever-faithful eight-digit universal password, of course!

Nearly everybody does it, security researchers report, and nearly everybody is vulnerable as a result.

When Dick Feynman was cracking safes for fun at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, 30 years before winning his Nobel Prize, he found most of the military safes had their original factory-set combinations, which of course are all the same.

Now throw-in your pornstar name, which includes answers to typical security questions, and millions — maybe tens of millions — of networks, PCs, and financial accounts are suddenly wide open.

There are viruses and malware and botnets — always more botnets — and the fact that millions of our PCs are zombies comes down as much to our carelessness as to the evil intent of the people hacking our machines. They get away with it in large part because we let them — even help them — do it.

Next, how our habitual behavior has allowed the world economy to be screwed… and what can be done about it…