The perils of burglary in the Internet age

We have met the network, and it is us -- a cautionary tale.

I can't give you the details around this story--it was told in confidence. But it's so wonderful that I have to give you the gist. A woman's home was burglarized and her computer stolen. She had subscribed to a Web-based service that transparently backed her files up to a server, and when the thief reconnected her machine to the network, the backup program quietly resumed operation. Since she retained access to her account, the woman was able to log onto the server and view the files being backed up from her (erstwhile) PC. So she has the name and address of the thief as well as (and this blows me away) digital pictures of him and his immediate family. Unfortunately (and this blows me away, too), there are issues around the "chain of evidence" (I don't watch CSI, so I don't really know what that means) that make it awkward for the police to arrest anyone. They're still trying to figure it out.

So what?

This is obviously a cautionary tale, but I'm not sure what it cautions against, nor at whom it's directed. It's certainly a lesson in what spyware could be doing to you even as I write this (secretly transmitting your bank's cookie file--with its saved password--to a server in a back room in some other country). Maybe it means we should be encrypting our files so that when (as is probably inevitable) they migrate elsewhere, they'll remain secure. Or maybe it's a reminder that the Internet isn't something that's out there: Your hard drive can be a part of it just as surely as Google's servers are. Or, to put it another way, we have met the network, and it is us.