Internet Security, Then and Now
I think everyone can agree that the Internet is one of-if not the greatest achievement by humans in the last 50 years. I remember the dreadful ‘beep, buzz, whawhawha’ just to get online. For the younger crowd that is the sound of dial-up; those were dark times. I also remember being so excited that my parents finally bought broadband with “faster Internet”! My father told me he had to setup the firewall before I could use our new, fast, no-waiting Internet; because unlike dial-up, with broadband the Internet was always “on”. I thought that was a good thing since we can use the phone at the same time as surfing online. Even 20 years ago my father knew the dangers of the online world and that simply being connected was a risk.
Back in those days, the threats were simple and often obvious. Never open emails from strangers and never click on suspicious links; if you did that you were probably safe. Then the hackers and thieves began invading our online world to phish for you data or hack into your systems. People would have identities stolen by entering information to copy-cat websites. The threats were mainly posed by an individual or a small group of hackers. Fast-forward to today and we are back to the wild west of the Internet. Actually, it is more like a war zone.
Today we still have to worry about the guy living in his parent’s basement and small hacker groups. However, now there are bigger players now – free social platforms. The common person is no longer consuming goods, services, or resources from online platforms, the platforms are consuming the common person. It is extremely expensive and resource intensive to operate and maintain platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; yet they are free. That is because these platforms gather data about the user and sell that data to other companies/groups that micro target consumers with advertisements. This isn’t a new strategy, just an evolution of what’s happened in the past. For example, if you were to watch Cartoon Network I am sure most commercials would be about toys. Advertisers are targeting a certain demographic. With online social platforms, the concept is the same but to a much more granular scale.
The scary part is how this data can be used in more insidious ways-think Cambridge Analytica. Would it be a big leap to see states using the same targeting strategy? Would it be unreasonable to believe that a state sponsored “company” or “research group” would buy access to user data and micro target foreign citizens? I’m not typically an alarmist, but I am very skeptical of the power social platforms have when it comes to sharing data. I’m not saying we should stop using these platforms, but that we need to be extremely cautious with what we do on them. Remember every “like” is being tracked, every click on an article is being tracked, anything you share or post is being tracked. Regulations are being discussed that may force the platforms to require you to explicitly opt-in to allow selling of your data. Currently, you opt-in by default when signing up on most platforms. This is one step of many that may help protect our data. So, if you are like minded and want to curb the sale of your data, then perhaps consider letting your elected representatives know. You can even share your thoughts with them via Facebook; that would be something worth sharing and may even get a few “likes”.
Alex Zeltmann is an ABS veteran and a rockstar Infrastructure Engineering Manager. With over 10 years of experience in networking technology, he leads ABS’ team of implementation engineers as they integrate the latest technologies for ABS clients.