Lileks: What do DQ hacks and bus benches have in common? A lot

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2014 - 11:20 PM

Dairy Queen was hacked, and had credit card info stolen by the same program that gave Target such a jolly run earlier this year. Elsewhere, the city of Minneapolis is reconsidering its contract with a bus bench company. How are these related? Let’s investigate.

First: Who hacks DQ? It’s as if they’ve hacked everything else and are just having dessert now.

Perhaps they were misinformed by the name, and thought that they were hacking into Dairy Queen.

This comes on the heels of the Target breach, the Home Depot breach, the crafts-store Michaels breach, and so on. At least no one has gotten into the StarTribune computers, because they could reprogram the software we use to put together the paper, and fgjie o3n4w; 3 dslrnewdi3r ire045 fd5555555

Hold on, they’re patching the firewall … there. OK. As I was saying, everyone’s getting hacked, and it makes you think twice about handing over your credit card. And then you hand over your credit card anyway.

But it’s a reminder: Cash is easier; paper is easier, period. The other day at Cub I saw a good deal that required a coupon, which I didn’t have. Well, let’s just call up the coupon circular on our handy Cub app on my phone.

The app asked for a password, which I couldn’t remember.

Some guy in Russia probably knows it. The NSA probably knows it. I couldn’t remember it.

There I was in the middle of the store, trying to remember a series of letters and numbers so I could get 27 cents off a block of cheese. Of course the app hides your letters as you type, because they assume someone is standing 14 feet away with a spyglass trying to get your GROCERY STORE COUPON PASSWORD, and you don’t know if you blunt-fingered the wrong password or correctly typed what you thought was correct, but isn’t any more, because you forgot and had them mail you a new one, which was 03pFeo4i3ds4834.

So we have security systems that makes life difficult for you, but can apparently be bypassed by someone who thinks “I wonder if the DQ password is BRAINFREEZE … holy moly, it worked.”

Which brings us to the bus benches. As you may have read in some fine Strib stories by Eric Roper, the city of Minneapolis contracts all of its bus-bench biz to a company with the refreshingly old-style name of U.S. Bench. That’s the sort of firm you see in the 19th-century Robber-Baron histories, where J.P. Morgan would buy up Consolidated Bench and Amalgamated Bench and Atcheson-Topeka Bench and create a Bench Trust, which would eventually be broken up into smaller independent bench companies.

U.S. Bench pays $49 for the right to put them near bus stops, and sells ads. It’s an odd place for an ad, because people sit on it. It’s like buying a billboard that’s behind a tree half the time.

This is why you’ll be sitting on a bench and someone will roll down his window and shout “Move over! I need the Realtor’s last name!”

I had no idea how many were in my neighborhood, because no one has a bumper sticker that says Start SEEING Benches, as they do with motorcycles. There were six. They were all depressing. They looked like … how do I put this? Bus benches.

There’s so much more that can be done. Another company might enhance the street-sitting experience considerably. First of all: reclining benches, so you can stretch out a little. Cup holders. Vibrating seats to loosen those knotty glutes. You could have two rows of seats so many people could relax, although of course the people in the second row would complain if the people in the first row reclined, and there would be fistfights.

The benches could have Wi-Fi. Everything has to have Wi-Fi, because someone posted a picture of a cupcake on Facebook. You will have to log in as a guest unless you have an account with the Bench company, and you will have to follow them on Twitter for exciting Bus Bench updates about grand openings around town. You could also get points for “checking in” to BenchNet, and sharing your location with friends on Instagram.

In short, bus benches could be brought into the 21st century as interactive, engaging, civic features that waste time and give life the illusion of meaning.

But that means they could be hacked. If they can hack DQ, they’ll hack benches.

Someone could tap into the database, and reveal that the benches had been gathering information on weight for a national obesity study. If it’s cross-referenced with the Dairy Queen hack, and the information is sold to SmartBench, they could send you an e-mail noting that you had sat on the bench and consumed a soft-serve but had not gotten on a bus, and this violated the End User License Agreement you signed when you joined BenchNet, and you now owed a $2.46 occupancy fee, plus the $1.21 city fee for infrastructure maintenance.

Then we’d learn that the benches had TSA-mandated body scanners embedded in the seats to detect weapons, and the hackers now had, in essence, a database of every bus-bench user’s bottom, as if they’d sat on a Xerox machine during a holiday office party.

But that will pass and no one will care. If you’re the guy who’s standing by the bus stop instead of sitting, and pays with cash? People will roll their eyes. One of those. All he’s missing is the tinfoil hat.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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