Wikipedia was created as an example of the openness-will-lead-to-goodness online world – an “encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” But as it has grown in size and importance, this philosophy (forward-looking and delightful or pitifully naive, depending on your point of view) has been forced to change, to cope with the realities of human beings.

The latest change: Administrators like me are being given the option of two-factor authentication because of a rash of their accounts being taken over.

Administrators are chosen by other administrators, and there are thousands of them – I don’t know exactly how many. I have been playing on Wikipedia for 13 years and got elected as an administrator long ago, when it didn’t take much; these days there might are more requirements in terms of type and number of edits you do before you can be elected.

The term “administrator” sounds more impressive than it is, as it adds only a few small abilities. But the important one is that administrators can edit articles which have been closed to ordinary editing because they have attracted too many vandals or drive-by edits, or are subject to endless editing wars. These are usually political or religious articles, although sometimes commercial articles get swept up in the mayhem.

The lure of fiddling with such articles has apparently brought in the bad guys. I recently got a message on my wikipedia account saying “Please note that TOTP based two-factor authentication is now available for all administrators. In light of the recent compromised accounts, you are encouraged to add this additional layer of security to your account.’

Ugh. I’ve turned it on, but what a pain. Just another depressing sign that the power of the promise of the online world attracts at least as much malevolence as benevolence. Like most of what humans do.


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