What if you were being bugged?

In a month in which a number of news reports come out on various corruption and money laundering cases, one theme appears present in all these cases, the capture and interception of data and personal information. If these tools can be used well by justice and for positive purposes, in the wrong hands they are powerful weapons that can destroy lives and businesses.

More and more we interact with technology on a daily basis and often without realizing it. Many of these interactions are recorded without us even knowing it. What you bought, where you were, who you communicated with, and what you said is probably stored right now on a server somewhere in the world. Analysis of this information can be used to draw almost exact profiles of each of us and even predict our future behaviors and even more easily ruin someone’s life.

‘It only happens to others’ is what we usually say, but we end up a lot with ‘House stolen, locks on the door’. That’s what happened in August with several Hollywood ‘stars’ who saw their personal photos, such as actress Jennifer Lawrence’s overage photos, shared with the world after they were stolen online.

Individuals, businesses and governments need to take their share of responsibility and take action.

The first people responsible for the security of our information are ourselves. This step starts with the awareness that everything we write and send will probably be stored somewhere. So as a first step it is important to think about the information we share and how we do it. Although there are no foolproof systems, with a little care this more confidential information can be much better protected. Several programs (such as 1Password) already allow high levels of encryption that make life difficult for malicious people. Many other applications destroy the information after it is no longer needed. Other ways are not to use the same passwords all the time and make them longer and less obvious, change them often and keep the various antivirus software and programs up to date.

Many of the information thefts take place directly by stealing from the systems of companies that store our information. The first critical part is the awareness and transparency of companies. Most have very poor security levels and systems and often when warned they ignore the problem and when attacked they hide the attacks. The very banks that we usually think have almost impenetrable systems have problems and I have recently witnessed (in a controlled and authorized environment) the invasion of the bank account system in several large banks.

The importance of the issue is such that when entering the London Underground there are posters advertising the English government’s advice on protecting citizens’ personal information. In addition to educating the population, the state and legislative bodies need to take more efficient measures. If there are already laws about what data can be stored and how it can be handled, there is a need for more detailed legislation and practices that companies must take to maintain the integrity of information. A transparency policy where companies report attacks suffered and stolen information publicly could have a positive impact as:

  • would make companies take more preventive measures and improve safety conditions to avoid embarrassment in the public square.
  • would allow users to take appropriate action.
  • would alert other companies to the kind of attacks they might suffer.

Big Brother is here and it is not going away anytime soon. If wiretapping and invasion of privacy are sometimes necessary in a society governed by the rule of law, it is the misuse of these tools that must be regulated. There is no point in having illusions, society and the way we live is changing with mostly positive impacts and it is already impossible to live without technology. Instead of hiding our heads in the sand like ostriches, it is time to understand the new challenges and prepare ourselves to deal with them.

David Bernardo
David Bernardo
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