There was an interesting January 29, 2014, article on CNET written by Don Reisinger describing how a thief/hacker allegedly hijacked an Internet domain name and e-mail account belonging to Naoki Hiroshima and stole his Twitter username. According to Mr. Hiroshima’s own description of how this happened, he was previously offered $50,000 for his rare and valuable one-letter Twitter username (his Twitter username was @N).
Unfortunately, the increasing financial value of some Internet domain names and online accounts makes this digital property an attractive target for thieves and hackers. It’s important to protect your valuable or significant digital property during your lifetime, and it’s also important for family members and fiduciaries to protect this digital property during your incapacity and after your death. For example, use two-factor authentication for your online accounts that offer that extra layer of security. And, for Internet domain names, consider adding security features to your domain name registration including making the registration information private and restricting any domain name transfers unless an additional authorization code is used. These features help protect against “domain hijacking” and “domain slamming.” In an interview on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program broadcast on May 11, 2009, John W. Dozier, Jr., a Virginia attorney, described a case in which hackers stole a decedent’s domain names before the beneficiaries of the estate knew about them. In that case, the law firm was able to help the estate recover all of the domain names.
The bottom line is that we need to take appropriate steps protect our online accounts and digital property just like we take appropriate steps to protect our other “real world” property. And when a user becomes incapacitated or dies with valuable or significant online accounts and digital property, the fiduciaries and family members should act quickly to protect this digital property.
Update: According to a February 26, 2014, article on Ars Technica, Twitter has now returned Mr. Hiroshima’s “@N” account to him.