KFWB recently reached out to talk to us about the state of digital privacy and security, and whether people should be worried about how they use the Internet if they want to remain private and secure. These are tough topics to cover well – they are always somewhat technical, people have different types of concerns, and you have to encapsulate your point in a matter of seconds. So while we’re happy to provide some quick considerations for KFWB listeners, lets spend a few more moments here diving into this subject. Keep in mind that there is a difference between privacy and security. Privacy means people can’t learn much about you. Security means that people can’t take things away from you. These are often related – there is a lot of interdependence between the two. Nonetheless, they are best looked at as two separate issues.
Security is generally considered the bigger issue of the two, because it is where the economic loss is encountered more acutely. Whether it is identity theft or credit card theft, these are often the result of data being stored somewhere and getting stolen. As I mention in the KFWB interview, hackers tend to focus on places where lots of data is stored. Anything can be hacked, but doing this person by person would take too long. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to hit major data repositories. How can you protect against this? Always question where you are storing data. It is impossible for many of us to not do things on the Internet, but sometimes you have to ensure that you are thinking about whether or not you should store something online. This might be some of the files you put into an online storage account or it might be your credit card information stored with a website. Personally, I try to never let sites store my credit card information. This way, should a site ever get hacked I am more likely to not experience any issue related to that. I also only store files in online storage accounts that I can accept getting lost or stolen.
If your concern is privacy, it more likely means you don’t want people to know about who your friends are, what you are doing, who you talk to or share information with, where you live or work, and how to contact you via phone or email or mail. This ranges from personally identifiable information to personal relationships, habits and preferences. This information is always being taken from you by simply using the Internet. Web sites track as much as they can so they can find ways to sell you something, for example. I’m sure we’ve all noticed when we browse to look for an item for sale on some website, then later leave and see that same product show up as an ad on a separate website. This is called “retargeting”. Stopping this is tough, you have a myriad of configurations to make depending on what browser you use and/or use third party applications you have to download and learn how to use. It can be done, more or less, but it is not easy. We’ve all likely complained that Facebook changed their privacy settings at some point and undid whatever configuration we had limiting who can see what in our profiles; this is another example of a privacy-related concern. The trick here is not only committing to learning how to manage your services and applications (e.g. web browsers), but also the diligence to keep doing this on a near-continuous basis.
We think about security and privacy a lot here at younity – both Mike (co-founder/CTO) and I previously built security software products/companies. Our attitude is that we don’t want anything we can lose. It was hard to build a service like younity where we could lose entire server farms and not have to worry about a severe service interruption or the loss of user data. By not storing user files or metadata about their files, our service is inherently less of a target to people looking to take data. We wanted it that way. You can bet that when we start taking payment for younity (likely sometime this year), we will not be storing anything related to user financial information and instead pass it through to a vendor who enforces and continuously manages strong security.
Like I said, everything can be hacked. If you look at the Internet in such a way, it may well guide you to ask yourself questions about what you need to store online and whether you want to store your personal or payment information with the website. New alternatives are always popping up that offer creative ways for us to get the value and convenience we want from technology, but not necessarily compromise on the privacy and security to get it. We hope you agree that younity’s personal cloud is a great example of that.
All in all, the Internet can be a fairly safe place. However, it does require you to exercise caution and good judgement. Hackers and governments don’t often target individual, average people, they normally have more grand plans. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fall victim from any number of sources or vectors.