The Era of Sneakers
The 1992 film ‘Sneakers’ starring among others Robert Redford, was all about a piece of hardware that could break any encryption code, and the film came up with a tag that has been used in a variety of ways since: “No more secrets”. That has become the bane of the world as the Internet has developed over the years.
I think I was still a child when I heard a play on the ‘Home Service’ (now Radio 4) where an individual’s life was being shut down because someone was manipulating the world’s computers and everything about his life was gradually being eradicated. It has been the spectre of unlimited knowledge, and the abuse of knowledge, that has been the background of numerous films, books and short stories. But now we are really living in the era of ‘Sneakers’ it does seem there are no more secrets.
A few years ago we seemed to have a spate of government officials losing laptops or discs holding immense volumes of personal data. In more recent days the debate seems to have focused more on personal data being sold on by a variety of corporate institutions. The odds are that some details about you are being held by dozens if not hundreds of different locations.
The Government’s ‘Information Commissioners Office’ website benignly declares, “You have the right to get a copy of the information that is held about you. These rights are known as subject access rights,” but goes on to tell you that to get it you have to write to whatever organisation you think holds such information. That sounds like a lifetime hobby in the making!
Do you remember the WikiLeaks saga tlast year? The Wikileaks site declared, “WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.” That sounds all very benign but only time will tell whether their massive disclosures will have affected the world for good or bad. What is interesting to note is that it clearly is not easy to take down a website however big and powerful your intelligence community is.
The incredible availability of information has been both a blessing and a bane. The ‘bane’ bit probably depends on who you are and how you view these things. The world of education has quietly been struggling with a world where students can go on line and copy off large chunks of information, essays, dissertations etc. with little understanding. For exam markers or Coursework assessors, and educationalists in general, here has been a new area for motivating long discussion.
The Courts also appear to have been struggling with this same communications phenomenon. Reports of jurors discussing cases on Facebook seem to grow. Back in Autumn 2010 a number of media outlets quoted the most senior judge of England and Wales, aptly named Lord Judge, as saying, “If the jury system is to survive as the system for a fair trial... the misuse of the internet by jurors must stop." The BBC’s news website noted, “Lord Judge... said it was too easy for campaigners to bombard Twitter with messages in a bid to put pressure on jurors who might be looking at it.”
For a slightly different ‘Internet horror story’ did you see a December 2010 edition of Panorama, “Addicted to Games”, which declared that 24 million of us in Britain play computer games, and then went on to warn about the addiction likely to come with fast broadband, following the example of South Korea where 85% of the population have fast (50Mb) Broadband – and a growing addiction problem!
Recently the news heralded, “Every community in the UK will gain access to super-fast broadband by 2015 under plans outlined today..... Ministers say they aim for the UK to have Europe's best broadband network.” So are we inadvertently digging ourselves a hole into which we’ll fall? Well even if we are, I suspect the forces of change are so great there won’t be anything that will hold us back – or will there? Time only will tell.
And on cybercrime
Here’s a security site you might like to try: Cybercrimenews.norton.com Obviously Norton want you to buy their security software but nevertheless there are some useful articles and quizzes on the site.
We did the first quiz shown in the list below and were told “You are: An early adopter of the latest technology. Congratulations! You are ahead of the technology wave. As an early adopter, you embrace new technology long before most other people do. You tend to try new software applications, electronic devices, and update your gadgetry sooner than your peers. You’ve got an up-to-date computer (or two or three) that stores your family’s digital photos and music collection, not to mention all the gadgets that go along with living in the 21st century.” That’s us!
Various quizzes you can do:
Are you an early adopter of the latest technology?
Do you use the right tech to protect your computer?
Are You an Easy Target for Identity Thieves?
Are you a savvy online shopper?
Are you in danger of losing data on your computer?
Are you a password perfectionist?
Are you doing more surfing than working?
Are you a texting tyrant?
Just some basics – have you got the various basic security measures on your computer running. To check:
Windows XP – START – CONTROL PANEL – SECURITY CENTRE
This will show you whether you have on your firewall, your automatic updates, your virus protection.
In Windows 7 – START – CONTROL PANEL – WINDOWS FIREWALL & WINDOWS DEFENDER
Which will show you your security setups
Make sure you have your security stuff running. It’s not worth the risk of having it off.
Doomsday Scenario Computing
OK, we accept that so often on these pages we present warnings of the abuses of the Internet by nasty minded individuals whose idea of fun is to mess up everybody else’s computing lives. The result of this is anti-virus software industry. Conspiracy theory people may suggest both work under the same roof!
However this past week the news led with the following from the Times:
Computer malware to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme and stop Tehran developing an atomic bomb was designed by American and Israeli experts, it was claimed yesterday.
The Stuxnet computer worm, the most sophisticated cyber weapon ever made, crippled uranium enrichment facilities across Iran last year and set the country back five years in the nuclear arms race.
The Times leader commented:
As terrifying as the prospect of a cyber arms race may be, it is tempting to suggest that the concept does have one big thing going for it: it is a lot better than an actual arms race....
Despite its Hollywood flavour, however, one should not be blasé about cyber warfare. In friendly hands, Stuxnet offered a relatively cheap and painless method of stalling a nasty regime’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons. In unfriendly hands, a similar worm could damage our own power stations, or shut down the National Grid. It could cost billions on the London Stock Exchange, cause havoc with air traffic control, or change every traffic light to green.
Now there is something to give you nightmares; if floods don’t mess up your water supplies and sewage, some unfriendly enemy could by shutting down all the computers that now basically run the country. One can only hope that we have lots of back-ups and incredibly good anti-virus software of the highest possible calibre.
Just imagine that some organisation (dreamed of by Ian Flemming) produced a doomsday virus capable of crashing any firewall and bringing down any software. What would happen? No banks, no money, shutting down of National Grid and also water supplies. No defence systems, no food supplies, no telephones of any kind, no Internet, indeed no communication systems of any kind. Not a happy thought. Pray that such a thing is not possible.
So what do you use your computer for?
If you are a business, the answer is obvious, but if you are a private user, what do you mostly do with it. The most likely answers are:
Surf the Internet
Use Office (or similar) for general private usage)
In the light of the scare mongering above, or the discussions we’ve had in the past about the lengths we seem to have to go to protect our computers making them slower and slower, if your usage was only the latter two of the above three usages, then there is a good case to be made either for using Apple computers that don’t seem to suffer attacks, or of using free standing computers that are not linked to the Internet and which would never, therefore, need upgrades from Windows or from your protection provider. A lot safer and a lot cheaper! Ponder on that.
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