Internet Privacy Security Essay

Security And Privacy On The Internet

Many users are subject of Security and Privacy on the Internet issue. The term "information" now is more used when defining a special product or article of trade which could be bought, sold, exchanged, etc. Often the price of information is higher many times than the cost of the very computers and technologies where it is functioning. Naturally it raises the need of protecting information from unauthorized access, theft, destruction, and other crimes. However, many users do not realize that they risk their security and privacy online.
First, I want to describe who the subjects of the issue are. In my opinion, the issue is the most relevant for the private and commercial information. Home users risk their security while connected to Internet. It is obvious that many people store private information such as Social Security and credit card numbers, as it is more convenient than to enter them every time completing a form for an online purchase. Hackers do not have to attack every user individually, they write special viruses named "Worms" and "Trojan horses" which, once run, could spread in a global scale. These programs may have different functions from gathering personal data to logging pressed keys and e-mailing the information to a hacker. Even if a user does not keep any valuable information, his or her computer does have a value for a hacker. "If you think that your small computer could not become an object of offence because it is very small, then you are mistaken. Even if it doesn't contain anything worthwhile, it could be perfectly used for breaking in other, more significant system." (A. Zaharchenko, Futurology without future [Computerra], 2002).
Not rarely, competing entrepreneurs with the help of unlawful means want to get information and use it for their advantages in the business. Usually valuable information is stored in companies' computers in non-encrypted form or could be easily accessed. Internet could be used by rivals or criminals just as a mean to access such information. If consider such fact that almost any organization today uses Internet as it uses telephone, the scales of the issue become global.
As an example I would like to describe my experience working at a relatively small fruit import company. The management of this firm gets information, makes orders, and carries almost all negotiations via the e-mail. "To minimize the risk of any disclosure or loss of confidential data, it is important to understand where the risks are, and implement office management practices and appropriate technology to ensure all of your data remains confidential and secure," advises article IDS: Classification (2002, December4). The potential loss or disclosure of information could occur through various ways: vulnerabilities of operation systems (mostly Microsoft products), vulnerabilities of e-mail software, viruses and malicious software, and weak passwords. It is relatively easy to protect electronic information in this case,...

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This essay appeared as the second half of a point/counterpoint with Marcus Ranum. Marcus's half is here.

If your data is online, it is not private. Oh, maybe it seems private. Certainly, only you have access to your e-mail. Well, you and your ISP. And the sender's ISP. And any backbone provider who happens to route that mail from the sender to you. And, if you read your personal mail from work, your company. And, if they have taps at the correct points, the NSA and any other sufficiently well-funded government intelligence organization -- domestic and international.

You could encrypt your mail, of course, but few of us do that. Most of us now use webmail. The general problem is that, for the most part, your online data is not under your control. Cloud computing and software as a service exacerbate this problem even more.

Your webmail is less under your control than it would be if you downloaded your mail to your computer. If you use Salesforce.com, you're relying on that company to keep your data private. If you use Google Docs, you're relying on Google. This is why the Electronic Privacy Information Center recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: many of us are relying on Google's security, but we don't know what it is.

This is new. Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to look through your correspondence, he had to break into your house. Now, he can just break into your ISP. Ten years ago, your voicemail was on an answering machine in your office; now it's on a computer owned by a telephone company. Your financial accounts are on remote websites protected only by passwords; your credit history is collected, stored, and sold by companies you don't even know exist.

And more data is being generated. Lists of books you buy, as well as the books you look at, are stored in the computers of online booksellers. Your affinity card tells your supermarket what foods you like. What were cash transactions are now credit card transactions. What used to be an anonymous coin tossed into a toll booth is now an EZ Pass record of which highway you were on, and when. What used to be a face-to-face chat is now an e-mail, IM, or SMS conversation -- or maybe a conversation inside Facebook.

Remember when Facebook recently changed its terms of service to take further control over your data? They can do that whenever they want, you know.

We have no choice but to trust these companies with our security and privacy, even though they have little incentive to protect them. Neither ChoicePoint, Lexis Nexis, Bank of America, nor T-Mobile bears the costs of privacy violations or any resultant identity theft.

This loss of control over our data has other effects, too. Our protections against police abuse have been severely watered down. The courts have ruled that the police can search your data without a warrant, as long as others hold that data. If the police want to read the e-mail on your computer, they need a warrant; but they don't need one to read it from the backup tapes at your ISP.

This isn't a technological problem; it's a legal problem. The courts need to recognize that in the information age, virtual privacy and physical privacy don't have the same boundaries. We should be able to control our own data, regardless of where it is stored. We should be able to make decisions about the security and privacy of that data, and have legal recourse should companies fail to honor those decisions. And just as the Supreme Court eventually ruled that tapping a telephone was a Fourth Amendment search, requiring a warrant -- even though it occurred at the phone company switching office and not in the target's home or office -- the Supreme Court must recognize that reading personal e-mail at an ISP is no different.

Categories: Privacy and Surveillance

Tags: Information Security

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