Is it safe and secure?

The safety and security of the Internet impacts us all. We should be able to understand what is happening to our data, and have the ability to control how it is used.

From the phones in our pockets to the biometric databases that identify us to government officials, our personal stake in digital security is growing. You can have ‘nothing to hide’ and still not want to be targeted by aggressive advertisers or snoopers.

Our Web browsing is tracked and logged, online cameras are ubiquitous in cities, and we are welcoming more Internet connected devices into our homes. We have gained endless daily conveniences and ‘free’ services from these innovations, but the data they generate is crunched, archived and repurposed for marketing and surveillance.

We face risks now that were unimaginable only a decade ago, and many companies and governments are acquiring and using data in ways that do not have people’s best interests at heart. Unfortunately, those we trust to handle our data sometimes fail us.

Better security – and more choice – is the antidote for a decline in trust of online services. We need to push for more lean data practices, meaning that less personal data is shared and logged in the first place.

Skip to data visuals

Healthy

Public awareness about privacy being under threat in the digital sphere appears to be growing, and this is a helpful precursor to pushing for better rights and services. Lawmakers in many countries are engaging positively with online privacy issues, especially in Europe.

Hundreds of millions of people are taking charge of their personal Web experience by installing ad-blockers. One of the top three stated reasons for blocking ads is security, given that ads can be a channel for malware. This presents challenges for publishers, but also creates a strong incentive for the industry to make online ads better.

More messaging apps, including WhatsApp, now offer end-to-end encryption, meaning that conversations are protected from eavesdroppers, including the service provider.

Web traffic encryption is rising too. One factor is the launch of Let’s Encrypt, a new certificate authority that makes it easy and free to add HTTPS to any website. This helps protect the privacy of users, and offers some guarantee they are not looking at spoof pages. Also driving adoption, search engines and browsers are now subtly rewarding HTTPS websites.

Unknown to most, Internet communication will be more private, and possibly also faster, due to an upcoming new version of the cryptographic protocol called Transport Layer Security (TLS 1.3) that is used to secure all communications between Web browsers and servers.

Unhealthy

In 2013, US whistleblower Edward Snowden opened the world’s eyes to the full extent of government sanctioned, global digital mass surveillance, even in democratic countries. There is more public scrutiny of surveillance laws than before, but it hasn’t stopped greater snooping powers from being proposed in Britain, Pakistan, France and several other countries.

As cars, refrigerators, toys and all manner of devices connect to the Internet, the risks for both surveillance and malicious hacks are growing. In November 2016, a malware program called Mirai mobilized 100,000 connected devices, including webcams and baby monitors, in a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDOS) that briefly took down parts of the Internet. The owners of those compromised devices may never know (or care) what happened, and cheap and insecure devices will continue to be manufactured, unless safety standards, rules and accountability measures take hold.

Data breaches can lay bare the passwords of millions of people when the information is posted online or sold to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, breaches can go undiscovered for years, even when as many as 1 billion accounts are compromised. Which means… you may never learn the source of that identity theft that led your credit score to plunge.

Ransomware that hijacks computers and demands immediate payment to avert deletion, has grown into a multi-million dollar criminal industry with victims ranging from regular users to hospitals, schools, businesses, and one day perhaps critical infrastructure. Just one false click in an email purporting to be legitimate, can be enough to cause real damage.

Prognosis

The Internet depends on the security and trust of its users to function in a healthy way. Will the safety and privacy measures developed for software, networks and devices match the threats? We need to push governments and software makers to ensure that they do.

Through everyday interaction we are generating lifelong digital footprints across a range of corporate and government databases. At the personal level, we should take safety precautions with username and passwords until we have a better form of authentication.

Above all, we should be more critical about what information we share voluntarily. Will the online dating profile you posted 6 years ago ever get deleted? How long do the online ads you view track you? Even if you’d like to know the privacy conditions of online platforms, they are usually not written in language an average person understands.

Technology can be a real source of freedom and empowerment, but it can also be a tool of authoritarian control. No matter where in the world, we need to rein in the ability of officials and corporations to archive every movement and uttered word, for today and the future.

Data visuals

Public opinion

Attitudes about online privacy

People want to control what information they share, but can’t.

Digital systems share our personal preferences over the Internet with… we don’t really know. US Research shows online privacy is “very important” to people, even when they lack skills to protect themselves. Perceptions vary elsewhere, but if we can leverage public opinion to improve privacy rights, there’s hope.

Data protection

Laws to protect personal data

Close to a third of the world’s population still have no data protection rights.

Around half of all countries, including most of Asia, Africa and the United States have no comprehensive laws to define privacy rights or rules for fair handling of personal data. The European Union has strong protections, and national laws in many other countries are forthcoming.

Encryption

HTTPS rising

Many more websites now encrypt Web traffic with HTTPS.

The padlock in your browser’s address bar is seeing more action as nearly 50% of webpages now offer secure connections (compared with around 40% at the start of 2016). HTTPS is no longer limited to just banking and shopping. All Web browsing should be encrypted.

Data breaches

Increased online vulnerability

Breaches affected hundreds of millions of accounts in 2013-2016.

When data is stolen, sometimes no one knows until logins, passwords and other personal information show up for sale online. Breaches are getting bigger and more frequent. Do we have a security epidemic on our hands? In December 2016, Yahoo reported the biggest breach in history: 1 billion accounts.

Sensitive data

Data breaches in different sectors

Breaches in the health and medical sector have skyrocketed in the past 3 years.

If the US numbers are anything to go by, we can see the risk of new sectors adopting more technology without always having the necessary security experience or budgets. There are great opportunities for better healthcare management thanks to the Internet, but also huge personal risks on a global scale. Who weighs the pros and cons?

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