The other day I heard a talk radio host refer to a guy robbing somebody as “analog crime.” There are bad people after both your hard earned dollars, and your information. Nobody wants to give in to them, and it seems like we all enjoy the convenience of being online, except when things suddenly go wrong.
In the world of digital crime, when something does go wrong, it’s likely to show up not in your own backyard, but halfway around the world. The last time it happened to me, the problem came in the form of a consumer electronics purchase from a Tesco store. Tesco is a European chain store similar to the USA's Wal-mart. Though the chain does actually own Fresh & Easy, I think the closest Tesco to my house is somewhere in England.
Today’s crook is sophisticated, and we are currently exposed to more financial risk from digital crime than we are from “analog” crime. By 2017, there will be 1.3 billion online users filing documents, images and financial records in cloud storage, so there are plenty of opportunities for people to access data.
Keeping your private stuff private helps. Whether you’re careful, or not, it is very possible for your information to be stolen from a source you have absolutely no control over, like Visa/MasterCard, your bank, Apple, T-Mobile, or the Veteran’s Administration. It’s worth taking a good look at your statements for any erroneous charges.
It’s also worthwhile to conduct your life so you don’t put out too much personal information. Over the course of the last month or two, news stories on people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have increased public awareness of programs like the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, and wholesale collection of Verizon customer’s pin register data. Clearly the executive branch has a huge interest in data archiving on a massive scale, and congress is not going to do anything to close those particular floodgates. For many of us, personal privacy is not that important. I’m not a particularly private person, and with a litany of past publications, speaking engagements, and op-ed pieces of one kind or another, short of changing my name and dropping off the grid, I really don’t expect to have much privacy.
If you DO value your online privacy. Here are a couple of thoughts
1. Online banking provides less privacy than paper banking.
2. Encryption is quick, cheap, and easy. It also makes you look like a suspect if it is found in certain places, but a thumbdrive is probably OK.
3. Thumbdrives move data between machines more securely than dropbox or email.
4. Webmail provides less privacy than using an email client like MS Outlook installed directly on your PC.
5. Cloud storage provides less privacy than your hard drive.
6. Web photo aps like flickr and instagram make tracking your photos a breeze! For everybody!
7. Cloud based word processors like GoogleDocs provide less privacy than locally stored word processors like MS Word.
8. There’s more snooping than the general public realizes.
9. Anti-spyware programs work against the majority of the threats to your HDD and your phone.
10. Some things, like your retirement fund, really don’t need to be accessible at the click of a mouse.
Figure that God, and at least one three letter acronym, are looking over your shoulder, and you’ll probably be OK.