February seemed to be the month of privacy discussion. Apple chief executive Tim Cook spoke at a White House summit on cybersecurity and said: “If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money. We risk our way of life”. In contrast US President Obama, who also spoke at the same event, on that day signed an executive order, encouraging companies to share cybersecurity threat information. Also at another forum, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, head of the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which is charged with fighting money laundering and terrorist finance, fretted that payment technologies such as BitCoin (which has high privacy built-in) could facilitate financing of terrorist activities. Both sides agree that we are risking our way of life, but they cannot agree if we need more privacy or less.
Mikko Hypponen, computer security expert certainly believes that we should all be worried about our privacy. Mikko is the Chief Research Officer for F-Secure and is a thought leader in the security field. I had lunch with Mikko last month and spend couple of hours discussing this delicate topic.
While enjoying our lunch, Mikko Hypponen wondered “What happened to the old fashioned way of paying for what you use?”. How many ‘free’ services do you use? Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google Maps, Tweeter, Skype and the list goes on. All these services collect data about you to help them improve their services and push relevant advertisement to you. Users should wonder where their personal data is stored and how is it protected, but most don’t.
The governments are also trying and gather as much data as they can about everyone. We all know about the “NSW Police bugging scandal” which hit the news last week. If police is spying on police, what are they doing to everyone else? Certainly there is an argument that this is necessary for anti-terrorism and some people would say ‘I have nothing to hide’, but I believe a better questions is ‘What are you happy to share with everyone?’.
Most people assume that their personal data is safe in large organisations. That is far from the reality and we certainly know that no one is safe from hackers. This is a really interesting site that lists the world’s biggest data breaches. Link to biggest data breaches.
So what is the answer? Well that’s the big question that everyone is debating about. What you can do to protect yourself is be aware when providing your personal information to companies. You can also utilise different tools and software to help you protect yourself. Some of these are offered by F-Secure where Mikko is the Chief Research Officer.