The most democratic of institutions

I recently watched one of those Emergency Room reality TV shows, where the camera follows trauma patients as well as the Doctors and Nurses that treat them. There were people from all walks of life; a young gang member who had been shot, a middle-aged businessman who was in a serious car accident, and an elderly woman having heart troubles. During a cut scene with one of the Trauma Surgeons, he stated, somewhat bemused, that the hospital is the most democratic of institutions - all of us, whether the CEO or the person who cleans the bathroom that the CEO uses, will end up there eventually.

This is also true of data security. Celebrities and everyday people, multinational corporations and local businesses, all of them have suffered the loss of sensitive personal and/or business data. Stealing has never been easier.

Why is that?

The internet was never designed with security in mind. It was designed as an emergency communication system to be used by government and military entities in the event of a catastrophe. It was only ever intended, or envisioned, to be used by those that were already inherently trusted.

In time, the use of the internet grew, first to universities, and eventually to the public in the form of dial-up services like GEnie, Compuserve, and Prodigy. There were suddenly millions of people online, and thus followed businesses, looking to leverage the power of the internet to market and sell their products, both to consumers, as well as to other businesses, and even governments.

But the underlying architecture of the internet never changed, it was as insecure as ever. Criminals with technical knowledge began to take advantage of this, launching cyber attacks and breaching the networks of consumers and corporations alike . As such, we've entered into a never ending, reactive race to plug the holes and lock the doors. Firewalls, antivirus software, intrusion prevention systems, and several other buzzwords have laced the information security lexicon for the past several decades. It does not appear that the steady stream of acronyms and buzzwords will slow down any time soon.

All the while, our lives have become increasingly enmeshed in the technologies we use; smartphones, cloud data storage, and the networks of our employers, the companies whose services we use, and even those within our own homes and automobiles; all house sensitive, private data about us. Recently, the FTC released a warning about connecting your smartphone to the infotainment systems in rental cars. These systems can store your data like previously entered GPS locations, which may include a driver's home or work address. They can also keep mobile phone numbers, contacts, call logs, or text messages.

Our digital footprint is increasing every day, while the internet is just as insecure as it ever was. It's not hopeless though, a few basic, preventative steps and habits can go a long way towards guarding your data from prying eyes and outlaws. LIke a thief stalking the neighborhood late at night, looking for the car or house with an unlocked door, you often just have to take care of the basics to remain out of harm's way.

You don't have to run faster than the bear, just faster than the guy next to you.


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