Hacked off

What are we to make of what is now known simply as the Sony Hack?

For starters, we are all just one angry North Korean away from having ourselves vivisected publicly. Finances, emails, documents, photos: It may be the early 21st century, but digitally it is as if we’re back in time to when people were shamed by being dragged naked through the public square. If we are not as pure as Caesar’s wife, we risk becoming Hester Prynne or Lady Godiva.

Sony Pictures planned to release “The Interview” on Christmas Day. What was probably a forgettable comedy told the story of a couple of buffoons picked by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s Darling Leader, Kim Jong-un. It doesn’t take a Freud to see that Kim Jong-un would not be amused. His family rules a feudal state with an iron hand, and he knows that assassination is probably the only way he will be removed from power. Even paranoids have real enemies.

But while comedians and novelists have learned that any sort of humorous reference to Mohammed or to Islam is likely to get them a personalized fatwa and possibly a death threat, I’m sure that the screenwriters thought North Korea was safe for mockery.

Now we know differently, and lazy comics will have to return to making fun of the dim, the political and Catholics.

But I digress.

What we all now realize is that if a sophisticated multimedia company like Sony can be laid bare in such a cruel and complete fashion, we are all vulnerable.

Those letters we have been receiving from Target and Office Depot and who knows where else warning us that our credit cards or our social security numbers or our bank accounts may have been compromised are not simply advisory. They have become our memento mori, reminders that we are mortal and vulnerable.

And while we are in a headlong rush to automate our paychecks and bill payments and tithes, to digitize everything from the heating of our house to our personal health, none of this — none of this — is secure.

We are back in the Garden, having eaten of the tree of knowledge and liking it, but realizing we are naked.

In reading the expert blogs and reports, it seems as if the bad guys for now are winning. It is easier to hack than to stop hacks.

From the White House to the Vatican to JPMorgan Chase, every institution is experiencing an unrelenting series of cyber-attacks 24/7. Like any act of terrorism, it only takes one successful hack for the bad guys to declare victory, no matter how many are thwarted.

So 2015 begins with an increasing sense of vulnerability: We like all of the fruits of the digital age, but we are beginning to realize, like Jennifer Lawrence, how exposed we are.

Amazon and iTunes can give, but they can also take away. What we have on our iPhone or on our Kindle is not really ours in the sense of a record or a book. And should a government or a business choose to restrict or reveal, to take or to give, we don’t have much to say about it.

As Catholics, we know that none of our sins stay hidden. No matter how sincerely we lie, how cleverly we obscure, God knows all. We believe there to be a final accounting, and that all will be made known — the good and the bad.

Kim Jong-un has perhaps done all of us a small favor by reminding us that not just in the digital age, but for eternity, nothing stays secret. God is the ultimate hacker, for he hacks what he himself created.

So for our 2015 resolutions, let’s pray for forgiveness and grace when it comes to eternity, and better cybersecurity and encryption when it comes to everything else.

Greg Erlandson is OSV’s president and publisher.