Would you share the keys to your house to a complete stranger? Well, I thought I was never going to do it, but I did. Moreover, I am not talking literally about the keys to my real house, but rather to the essentials of my digital life, meaning the password of my email account. At the time, I was using just one password for almost all: different social networks, banks, and email. For that reason, the intruder, who got my password from an open wireless network at an airport, gained access to a bunch of my private matters such as conversations with my friends and family, my Instagram, my Facebook. When I noticed I there was a problem with the keys of my digital world, it was already too late. My friends were receiving awkward messages on Facebook and transactions in a Chicago pizzeria started to post, while I was in New York.
How could that happen to me Graduate Engineer in Information Systems with a specialization in Software Engineering? Well, dear and appreciable reader, feel free to catalog me as part of the ‘Millennials’ generation that does almost everything on the Internet, from date order food, communicate, work and study. I trusted an open wireless because it was free and of course, I didn’t need a password to connect to it. The public open wireless was so inviting, that after I joined to it, I shared my passwords deliberately and paid the consequences. After that, I closed my Facebook account and implemented second-factor authentication in my email account and bank accounts.
We are in the historical era in which data protection and feelings play a significant role in the transmission of information. We are changing the way we collaborate; technological changes are so vertiginous that we do not measure the consequences. We trust open networks, and we also share our entire life on social media. Please my fellow reader, if you feel the urge of checking your email or do a bank transaction at an airport, or in a coffee shop, just don’t do it. Open wireless networks are useful for checking lolcats at Instagram to get some inspiration or read the newsfeed or checking the weather, but that is about it.
Granting privacy as a human right is a shared responsibility that should continue to take place in the digital world. In America, there is still no federal regulation in the United States that strengthens the right to privacy in cyberspace. Nonetheless, private companies such as WhatsApp have been working on the enforcement of encryption. Encryption policies in an end to end communication are the considerable step towards granting privacy in the digital world. Mr. Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, shared on an op-ed last week his opinion about his concerns which he believes “we must tackle for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool that serves all of the humanity”(2017). One of Mr. Berners-Lee concerns is precisely the “collaboration with – or coercion of – companies, and governments are also increasingly watching our every move online and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy” (2017).
For instance, the U.S. Government has been trying to implement mass surveillance while gathering data shared throughout the web. According to a leak revealed by WikiLeaks this past week, the CIA has not cracked either Signal or WhatsApp yet, but that they instead rely on physical access to get into individual devices surpassing the application encryption. Overall, if a “single cyber ‘weapon’ is ‘loose’ it can spread around the world in seconds, to be used by rival states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers alike”(WikiLeaks, 2017). The cyber warfare tools such as virus or Trojans are deployed indistinctively, but we the people will continue to play a significant role as gatekeepers of our digital world. The web is fed by the information that we, share across devices and networks. We have to minimize the risk and do as much as we can, and pledge and ask for transparency to our governments on this matter.
Even when the importance of privacy in the information systems and communications is still at its stake, we, the people, have to be responsible and think of ourselves as primary gatekeepers of our digital life. Caring for personal information has always been important, but extrapolating that behavior into a digital life has not been straightforward yet. As we embrace a conversation about privacy on the web and as we are more aware of the risks of sharing personal information over public and open networks, the paradigm shift is on the way. Remember, just as you put a lock on the door of your house and the same way you take care of the keys, you should also consider attention, at least, of the passwords of your digital life.
WikiLeaks (2017). Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed. Retrieved March 9, 2017, from https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/
Berners-Lee, T.(2017).”I invented the web. Here are three things we need to change to save it”. The Guardian. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/11/tim-berners-lee-web-inventor-save-internet
WhatsApp Inc.(2017). End-to-End Encryption. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from https://www.whatsapp.com/faq/en/general/28030015
Note: This is a study/work related Open-Ed for course Communication in Public Settings PAF 9103 as requisite for Master in Public Administration and Public Policy at Marxe School of International and Public Affairs.