Complacency in Online Security
Written by Rebecca Fort
Today’s most inventive criminals have discovered that the greatest potential field for criminal activity has moved online. Whoever controls the flow of information has the most power. In movies and television programs, cybercrime is often portrayed as an art form, and the criminals who manipulate technology to achieve their own purposes are almost respected for their intelligence and creativity. However, the current behavior of Americans shows great ambivalence toward those who access personal information without permission.
Since the internet is both global and personal, the potential for abuse is limitless. To provide some type of protection from cybercrime, most businesses, schools, and other organizations create information policies that determine the ways their employees can use technology. These security measures openly declare that the organizations will monitor email and internet use by employees. On a larger scale, governments also try to be as proactive as possible in the fight against Internet criminals. Last summer, Edward Snowden announced that the United States government can and does check our communication. If our own government is watching, we can be certain that others are listening, reading, and watching as well.
Based on a survey conducted by Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Polls before Snowden’s disclosure, Heather Kelly, CNN reporter, stated that many people were not surprised by Snowden’s revelations. According to the poll, “A full 85 percent of Americans believe their communications history, like phone calls, emails and internet use, are accessible to businesses, the government and others” (Heartland Monitor, 2013). In light of these findings, rather than revealing a shocking discovery, Snowden simply confirmed Americans’ suspicions that anything printed, posted, spoken or accessed through technology is not private. Not only are Americans unsurprised, a Gallup poll released October 24, 2013 indicates that Internet users in the United States are “less concerned” [emphasis mine] about the government’s “ability to ‘tap’ into” home computers to monitor files, Internet usage and email than they were thirteen years ago (Swift, 2013).
In many ways it seems incredible that United States citizens do not expect privacy. For some reason, privacy of individuals is seemingly disregarded in personal Internet use despite strict protection of information in many other areas. For example, HIPAA prohibits medical personnel from disclosing any health information without consent. Businesses, banks, and even social media sites are required to provide detailed explanations of their use of personal information for anyone who is inclined to read the small-print legalese. Institutional Review Boards closely monitor all research involving human subjects to ensure that participants remain anonymous and that their personal information is kept confidential. Most states also provide protection of patrons’ library records.
Those rights are valued, yet any of those same transactions conducted online are assumed to be available to any government agency in the world. At the same time that vast numbers of Americans and businesses are thoroughly shredding any documents that might allow dumpster-divers to discover personal information, the most commonly used passwords in 2012 were “password” and “123456” (Ngak, 2012). Such nonchalance about personal security online is baffling. Perhaps Americans assume that identity thieves would rather dig through garbage cans than hack computers. Maybe citizens feel that governments’ and employers’ intrusive online activities provide sufficient protection from anyone less “respectable” and more interested in personal gain at our expense. Or maybe Hollywood productions and government leaks have convinced us that there is no true security online; our digital lives have become open access to those who protect us as well as those who would harm us. If so, then possibly the greatest Internet crime is that many of us just don’t care.
As information becomes more freely accessible, what effect will that have on the value of information?
What kinds of different behaviors have you noticed in the ways people protect physical v. virtual information?
Is the price of a loss of privacy too much to pay for the security it provides in other ways?
Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll (2013, June 6). Heartland Monitor: Americans Concerned about Privacy, Trust Law Enforcement. PR Newswire. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/heartland-monitor-americans-concerned-about-privacy-trust-law-enforcement-210439971.html
Kelly, H. (2013, June 9). Some shrug at NSA snooping: Privacy’s already dead. CNNTech. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/07/tech/web/nsa-internet-privacy
Swift, A. (2013, October 24). U.S. Internet Users Less Concerned About Gov’t Snooping: Fewer Americans very concerned, even after 9/11 and Snowden revelations. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/165569/internet-users-less-concerned-gov-snooping.aspx
Ngak, C. (2012, October 24). “The 25 most common passwords of 2012”. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57539366/the-25-most-common-passwords-of-2012/