“No one knows you like we do!”

“Keeping tabs on the terrorists and everyone else.”

“Your secrets are safe with us.”

“Screening the screens, monitoring the monitors.”

“Trust the computers.”

“A government so small you can carry it with you everywhere.”



“Unprotected masswords” — “shared cofiles” — “community hackounts.” Sorting through the emails and telephone calls of otherwise law-abiding citizens, the NSA has learned of many different names for sharing online accounts that are intended for private, individualized use. Many people even perform these acts without even having a name for them—sharing their passwords on movie services, for instance. But the NSA only has one word for all kinds of identity piracy: CONSPIRACY!

Sharing digital identities with others not only violates your contracts with your favorite companies; it violates the spirit of American individualism. Worst of all, identity piracy may put you and your neighbors in danger by making it harder for the NSA to identify and track suspicious characters.

To make sure that you are not accidentally engaging in this pernicious activity, please carefully read the following descriptions of the conspiracies of identity pirates.

The Chinese Dragon

A closed group shares a single identity.

The most common use is sharing digital subscription services like Netflix, or letting non-students make use of a university’s digital archives. On services that sell digital content, such as Apple ID, Amazon, and Xbox Live, conspirators are able to purchase once and share immediately. In some cases this practice is blocked by the hardware, but modifying that hardware is less expensive than the software that can be shared in this way.

Bolder Chinese Dragons have begun to speak collectively using communal email accounts or social network profiles.

Most Chinese Dragons include a single user who plays “head” by maintaining the account’s official credentials; the enrolled student, for instance, who permits others to read her college’s e-books. But there are Headless Chinese Dragons too.

Law-abiding citizens might assume that the heads of Chinese Dragons cannot share their accounts without sharing everything. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. Though many accounts require a credit card to register, very few allow the user(s) to retrieve that information. On services such as Amazon that enable purchases with a stored credit card, identity pirates usually open the account with a nearly empty pre-paid card. When someone later wishes to make a purchase, they input their own card number, then delete the credit card information fully before logging off of the service.

The Rotating Cast

A group of people share a handful of identities, taking turns with them.

For example, a Rotating Cast might maintain five cell phone accounts, repeatedly reshuffling the actual cell phones between various individuals or locations, and maintaining the same phone numbers on all phones.

The Public Playground

An account designed to attract as many users as possible.

Public Playgrounds are established when an individual or group circulates an account name and password, inviting others to make use of it. People often use this for collaborative writing experiments with no ill intent.

Identity pirates sometimes complicate this approach by adding an offline component. An email account with its password painted under an overpass, for instance, can serve as a local anonymous messaging board.

On some services, however, the appearance of a Public Playground will causes administrators to reset the password; or a single user may accidentally change it, locking others out. For this reason, Public Playgrounds is usually used for short-term projects. The longer-lasting form is the Double-Hydra.

The Double-Hydra

A system for generating account names and/or passwords to be shared as widely as possible.

Imagine a creature that grows more heads when heads are removed, and more bodies when bodies are removed.

Consider, for instance, this tweet: “SN= syzygy(this year), if can’t +1; PW=SN backwards, if can’t +1.” The first person to read it registers the screen name syzygy2013 with password 3102ygyzys and retweets the message. A growing network of dozens of people use that account for several months before the administrators force the password to be reset. The first person to notice logs in and changes the password to 3103ygyzys. It is only a few minutes before regular users can log in, and if the account is ever closed entirely, they will meet again using screen name syzygy2014.

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