Protecting our Digital Selves

With social networks, search engines and phone apps getting increasingly adept at capturing various aspects of our lives, each of us are beginning to create an ever-growing version of ourselves in the digital world. A digital footprint. Over time, this digital footprint has begun to contain increasingly  sensitive data. The sheer quantity of our confidential data sitting on the internet is staggering. It is sure to surprise most people. The ways this data can be used against us is also growing rapidly. Our passwords begin to unlock bank accounts, our emails can now be used to access social networks and our phones even contain a detailed account of our location history.

It is only in the last five years, where a general awareness has spread for the need to protect this information. Large corporations have begun to come under scrutiny for some of their actions when it comes to protecting their user’s privacy.

As users, we constantly balance the value these search engines and social networks bring to our lives against their bid to convert our private information into data for advertisers. With growing awareness, we are beginning to see people working harder to keep their online footprint private. There is a concerted effort and cost that people are willing to incur to protect their data.

Yes, we should be concerned with how our data is being used by large corporations but that is not the only threat in the digital space. Individuals with malicious intent have seen a lot of success launching phishing scams and malware attacks that have spread far and wide across the world. Businesses spend a lot of resources on their website malware removal but this does not stop the spread of such attacks.

Social networks, email chains and social networks provide a springboard for such schemes where users unwittingly, propagate the malicious material disguised as a message for charity or a get rich quick scheme. Often, the malware infects the system and makes personal data available to the hackers behind it. As users perpetuate the malware through their networks the volume of data available to the hackers grows exponentially.

Each year, new threats evolve as hackers find innovative ways to leverage your online presence to benefit them in some way. The success cryptocurrencies have seen in the past year or so, have led to the advent of the latest trend in the list of cyber threats. Cryptojacking. This is where a compromised webpage can access the browser and infect a machine, forcing it to mine cryptocurrency for the hacker. This is beginning to gain momentum across sites.

In spite of their malicious intent, one can not help but marvel at the sophistication some of these malware attacks include. Not only are they technically brilliant but they often show a nuanced understanding of human behavior. In the online world, humans are becoming increasingly predictable. When there is data to drive decisions, the unique behavioral idiosyncrasies that differentiate us from each other, become easy to overcome.

“I think computer viruses should count as life.  I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive.  We’ve created life in our own image.” Stephen Hawking famously commented, marveling at the computer virus.

Today hackers are building sophisticated tools that allow them to target a variety of individuals. Even high profile celebrities with great wealth are not safe from their unscrupulous motivations. Large corporations like Apple have also been breached.

For the ordinary person, it is almost impossible to be completely certain, their data is safe. Legislation is only now beginning to adapt to the gamut of laws required to govern data in the digital space. The sheer volume of data people generate on a daily basis has boomed over the past five years.

In terms of addressing this problem, the road ahead is long. For a large chunk of the population, there is still little awareness in terms of the perils such an attack may pose. Without this awareness, it is almost impossible to prepare people, making them ready to tackle such an issue. Generally, by the time the victim realizes such a scam has been carried out, it is already too late.

The best defense we have in such situations is vigilance. On our part, we must ensure we keep out antivirus software, firewalls and other security mechanism up to date an active. If we see suspicions emails and social network forwards, instead of pushing them along, we must try and report them. Still, the most important contribution we can make to the fight is help spread awareness. Educate people, less comfortable with technology, about the risks they face as well as the steps they should take to protect themselves. The dangers are as real as ever, we need to face them together.

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One comment on “Protecting our Digital Selves
  1. A darker, yet accurate article! It is scary times we live in, true. Unfortunately there is always a downside to every new form of growth or technology that on one side improves our lives, then is turned around to cause harm to us on the other. I suppose this is inherent on our own human nature and depending on the mindset of the individual, it can be used for either.
    Your point is true that the best way to answer these types of threats is through ‘Awareness’ and ‘Education’. As the old adage goes: ‘When the light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overpower it.’ Thank you for a very interesting, eye-opening article. Keep Educating!

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