In the modern age of the internet, there are increasing reports of data breaches, corporate hacks, leaked emails and information dumps. The growing trend of cyber-crime and the implications that it brings are that, as the internet grows, the issue of how to keep your data and privacy safe and protected intensifies.

The internet is viewed by many as a tool or platform. An opportunity to reach millions of people, a chance to share their experiences and be a part of the digital age. But what does that mean for privacy? How can we make sure that what is shared is only being used for what we want? Can we ever know for sure? Surely then, it is the duty of every user to be aware of what the dangers are and how to defend against them.

Hacking

Hacking is a buzz word that has grown in popularity in the past few years. The Sony Hack in 2014 demonstrated to the world the extent that the power of what a little knowledge can do to a company that relies on data security to function. The fact that a large and influential company could be brought down by a small group of people is quite humbling. It also highlights, that if a multi-billion dollar company is at risk - then so are you. While you may be sat there thinking “That’s fine, I would love my collection of cat gifs to get more exposure!” bear in mind that much more data than you might expect can be gained with very little effort.

Social Engineering

Contrary to popular belief, hacking is not done primarily in dark basements hunched over keyboards surrounded by pizza boxes and glowing screens. Hacking is about weakness. Finding the weak point in a system and exploiting it to gain access. Security has progressed from the early days of the internet, where Kevin Mitnick whistled down a phone to make free calls. Now, the weak link is much simpler – people. Yes, the bane of IT departments everywhere, users are the most likely to compromise data security, (far more likely than a basement troll), and probably not in the way you think.

Facebook Instagram and Twitter are great places to connect with people, but they are also great places to gather information about people. We have all seen the posts that people make:

“Combine your date of birth and your cousin’s last name to find when and where you will get married! Post the results below!”

Simple and innocent fun right? Well, for the most part probably. The only time this could become dangerous is if the post receives a lot of answers, i.e. Goes Viral. You may have noticed that the two pieces of information being asked for are:

  1. Your date of birth.
  2. A family relation’s last name.

On their own these pieces of information are unlikely to harm anyone, but say for example, your “cousin” is related to your mum’s brother? Yeah, you guessed it. We just “socially engineered” someone’s mother’s maiden name! Because of Facebook, we can learn that person’s name, location, where they live, maybe even where they work. Now we can probably reset some passwords, maybe even their online banking!

This is what privacy has become in the 21st century, “hacking” is a case of looking at the information that people have made public and using it in ways that the person doesn’t expect, in order to gain an advantage. Recognising the risk is key in avoiding becoming a victim. Simply not sharing your profile publically is a good first step. Limiting what information is available to the World Wide Web is the best defence, remember that while it might not seem important to you, it can be a valuable tool to a would-be hacker.

The Cloud

The Cloud has been a step forward for the internet and the world at large, allowing businesses to scale up and down easily and quickly. It has allowed companies that would previously have had huge startup costs to create their own development and server environments for a fraction of the cost. But along with all of this, one of the most important facts to remember about the cloud is this: - It is just somebody else’s computer.

Yes it might be a really big one that is replicated across 4 continents, but that just means that your private data is now stored on the other side of the world, possibly in more than one place. Can you be sure that you are the only one accessing it? It is suggested that the 2014 iCloud data breach was due to compromised backups, although that has never been confirmed. The point however, is that once the data is online, and out of your control, it is impossible to say what might happen to it. There are ways to protect against this, but they come with a price tag. A big one.

“So how can we protect ourselves?”

The answer to this question is the same now as it always has been. If you do not wish the world to see pictures of you dressed up as John Cena, don’t post them online. Stick them on the wall instead.