Thursday, 7 August 2014

Hack Attack: An Increasingly Insecure Age

In the beginning, the Internet was like a virtual dress-up for adults. Early social networking sites and instant messaging services allowed teens and adults alike to reinvent themselves, Madonna style, but without the conical bra. Well, it wasn't mandatory.

As a teen in the 00s, the only concern I or my parents had about my digital safety concerned middle-aged men with a taste for young girls. I was briefed on guidelines; never interact with somebody I didn't know, never agree to meet up with a stranger, don't send pictures of myself (clothed or otherwise) to anyone.

But while we rightly shuddered at the thoughts of me interacting with a dangerous predator -with the benefit of hindsight - I think we were fearing the bears in the forest while the wolf was scratching at the door.
Seamlessly and intrinsically, the Internet has come to dominate our lives. It influences what we watch, what we eat, how we run our lives. We use it to pay our bills, chat with relatives across the globe, order our taxi's, apply for jobs, get information on medical conditions - the list is endless.

And for a very long time, we did this with little thought to the vast quantities of personal information we were sharing. We trusted that this data was secure. Then Edward Snowden happened. And a a whole host of data hacks happened. And as we realised intimate information had been compromised, we began to rethink how secure our data really is.
So it is unsurprising that this years BlackHat conference in Las Vegas will challenge the idea that our emails and bank accounts, among other things, are completely safe.

A study by HP released last week found that of the ten "smart" items we use on a regular basis - TV's, webcams and automatic lock doors to name a few - 70% had security vulnerabilities.
This week, a security company claimed that Russian hackers amassed over 1 billion usernames and passwords. If it's verified, it will be the largest known security breach in the history of the Internet.

Speaking to The New York Times, Alex Holden, the founder of Hold Security, said “Hackers did not just target U.S. companies, they targeted any website they could get, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to very small websites...And most of these sites are still vulnerable.”

Ruben Santamarta, a cyber security researcher, says he's figured out a way to hack into communications equipment on planes and plans on unveiling his research at BlackHat this week.

The question of secure communications is the crux of our digital security. Creating a complicated password with a mixture of capitals and numbers is no longer sufficient to protect. It's also not just personal information that's at risk.
A hacker took control of 200 hotel rooms in China through a flaw on the complimentary i-Pad in his room. As a result, he was able to play with the lights and temperature of these rooms. He drew the line at messing with the door locks.

Adjusting the physical hardware of protection on our devices is falling to the makers and there is an increasing desire for high-security reassurance. The US market has been flooded with increasingly sophisticated devices as a result. The latest offering, Blackphone, allows users to send encrypted texts and calls to one another - making it infinitely more difficult for hackers, and the NSA, to earwig on conversations.

Along with these practical breaches, there's the subtler breaches into our subconscious. There was, rightly so, public outcry when it was revealed Facebook played with our moods as an experiment. It's no surprise that Facebook has been monitoring our likes and status updates, but this revelation signaled the leap from monitoring to manipulating.

So what does all this mean for the average user who just wants to trawl Buzzfeed to kill time and bingewatch TV shows on Netflix? It means that individual users need to be more proactive about protecting their Internet selves and information. It means we need to demand greater assurances of privacy from the companies which hold this data. And it means we need to think very carefully about the information we are throwing into the ether and the myriad of ways this can affect our lives.

Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo

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