BY: BRIAN CAPITAO
Following all the recent brouhaha with Edward Snowden, the general public has decided that privacy is a big deal. Mr. Snowden has exposed that the National Security Agency—a US based government agency—has been spying on average citizens and journalists. According to the Kaspersky Labs security company, the NSA currently implements monitoring software in the majority of the world’s manufactured computers. Snowden, like many other hackers, are fighting against what they believe to be the control of information. For self-proclaimed hackers, freedom of information is the key issue of the 21st century. George Hotz, the young hacker who was first to jailbreak an iPhone was quoted in The New Yorker as saying, “This is the struggle of our generation, the struggle between control of information and freedom of information.” This sentiment reflects a common attitude shared today by many hacktivists.
Smartphones know more about you than you think:
Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer and activist for the democratization of technology has been outspoken about digitally restricted media and copyright. In his book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age he writes, “The laws behind digital locks make it illegal to determine what your computer is doing. They make it illegal to stop your computer from doing things you don’t like. And they make it illegal to tell other people what’s going on inside your computer.”
Aaron Swartz, one of the cofounders of Reddit, also believed that information should be shared. He paid for it with his life. Swartz faced several charges for disseminating academic papers from MIT. Notably, he leaked JSTOR articles and was charged with 13 cases of indictable offences. All because he believed in transparency.
Meanwhile in the private sector, the aggregation of user data has become frightening. In an article in the New York Times, Charless Duhigg tells the story of a Minneapolis man being furious with Target for sending coupons to his teenage daughter suggesting she was pregnant. As it turns out, Target knew about the new addition to the family before he did.
Internet censorship cannot coexist with privacy and freedom of information.
It seems even drones are getting in on the action. A data-stealing drone was unveiled as part of the 2014 BlackHat security conference. The drone steals smartphone data by exploiting wireless signals as phones attempt to connect to a Wi-Fi connection. Burberry in 2012 launched their Customer 360 plan allowing them to record customers’ buying history and shopping preferences in a digital profile that could be accessed by employees using a tablet in stores. Samsung has also come under fire because its smart TVs record and give the company access to everything you say in front of the television. In the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply it was revealed that, Acxiom, one of the world’s largest data brokers, sells key financial and health information to interested third parties.
Most people are much too lax about their security. Kaspersky Labs has recently reported that hackers have stolen over $1 billion from banks. This is reminiscent of the Stratfor hacking that occurred in recent memory. The Stratfor hack led to the publication of AT&T customer data, including financial documentation. However the recent attack on financial institutions worldwide had targeted the banks themselves rather than their customers.
I decided to ask an actual hacker what they thought of the current state of affairs. Hacker and freelance writer, Owen Ferguson—who did some time for computer trespass—spoke with me online. When asked if he was concerned with cyber-terrorism, he had this to say, “The only computer terrorism I fear is the government using computers to terrorize the population. This is already widespread and growing. Kaspersky[sic] and other “antivirus” pioneers perpetuate the climate of fear by routinely discovering new and different ways to do the same old thing. A billion dollars lost to mid-level management theft is to be expected in any scheme so brazen as a commercial bank. That computers were involved is hardly the salient point one should draw from the data.”
ICREACH is an alleged top-secret surveillance-related search engine created by the NSA; its existence became public through the documents leaked by Edward Snowden:
So what can one do to protect themself? One method would be that of email encryption as suggested by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Edward Snowden, by using PGP or Pretty Good Privacy. Clearly, we can’t trust the private sector to be secure when they are extracting data with great cost to us. Another would be to use VPNs or Proxies and TOR together (using TOR by itself will automatically flag you to government agencies).
The web might literally be the best invention since sliced bread. It’s easy to use and gives people around the world a way to connect. We should take care of it and treat it as a global village. Aaron Swartz, George Hotz, and Edward Snowden are key figures in a drama that will likely play out over the next several years and it is time to start paying attention. It’s one thing to bitch and moan about the unfairness of a system that thrives on keeping people in the dark, it’s another to apathetically just let it happen. Go out and support open access and demand that things be publicly available.