You’re watching your son play a school soccer match. Your camera is ready when he scores the winning goal, taking his team to victory. You’re so proud; you can’t wait to share the news. Along with the picture, you write: “The goal that made Sunny Hills Primary School winners today; well done, Peter!”
A few hours later, you get this message: “I saw Peter’s goal for Sunny Hills – amazing! I was on the other side; you have to see this angle.” You probably won’t think twice about clicking on the link in the message – obviously the person sending the message was there, how else would he know your son’s name, his school and that he scored the winning goal?
Two months later, you can’t understand why you’ve been blacklisted and the bank won’t grant you a personal loan.
Hackers are using social engineering methods such as these, which prey on our willingness to share our lives online, to access our personal information. They trick us into following links that give them access to our phones, which these days store everything from our social media profiles, which are always logged in, to our GPS apps that have our home addresses already saved. It’s become almost too easy to steal someone’s identity.
With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), we’ll soon be sending a lot more personal information to the cloud. Wearable devices that monitor our heart rates, blood pressure and glucose levels are becoming as common as regular wristwatches, while apps like Waze and Foursquare let anyone know where we are – and when we’re not at home, which is practically an invitation to burglars.
Where is all this information going and who has access to it? At the moment, too many people.
I don’t mind if my doctor can see my health data, but I have a problem with my medical insurance company using it to hike my premiums because my heart rate never goes past resting. And I certainly don’t want hackers getting their hands on it.
By default, our IoT DNA should be locked down in a virtual vault for which only we have the password. Only we should decide who can access what information – like an opt-in system – and block access to everyone else.
But passwords are inherently insecure, especially when we use the same one for multiple accounts. Anti-virus software and firewalls don’t offer sufficient protection as they’re easily breached and rely on users to regularly update them.
My eyes only
Everyone in the value chain has a responsibility to protect users’ information, from the users themselves and device manufacturers, to software creators and security providers.
We’re already seeing promising developments in the security industry. Soon, our faces or fingerprints will be our passwords, while password repositories will store passwords for the sites we use most often, and will only allow us to access those sites once we’ve supplied a ‘master’ password.
Device manufacturers and software vendors are also addressing flaws in existing security systems. Intel Security (previously known as McAfee), for example, is no longer just concerned with viruses and firewalls. It now checks multiple entries for infiltration and records common patterns. Anything out of the ordinary – if your computer pings every other PC on the network, for example – will get blocked and reported.
Soon we won’t need anti-virus software because the processor will be doing the smart thinking to flag suspicious behaviour. Every PC will be equipped with a software appliance that will operate as the firewall instead of having to load software onto an operating system.
In the past, we could walk the streets at night and not continually look over our shoulders. Today, we jump at every sound and take precautions to protect ourselves. We’ve adapted to changes in our physical security; we need to apply that same vigilance to cyber security.
* Vince Resente, Enterprise Technology Specialist at Intel Corporation