Protect Your Data Or You Will Soon Have To Deal With ‘The Rise Of The Machines’

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For the well-informed, it is an undeniable fact that the future of internet privacy is bleak. We live in a time where the internet is an indispensable resource. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned by internet service providers and internet companies to believe that to access internet services, we must first give up any notion of privacy. As a result, these companies collect unlimited user information every time we use their services. Of course, on the surface, this is done for the sake of providing better services, but the reality is that they do this to protect the corporate bottom line.

Protect Your Data Or You Will Soon Have To Deal With ‘The Rise Of The Machines’

Ask yourself this; how much information is collected on a daily basis and how much of that information is used to help in improving internet services? Taking it a step further, you should question how the information is used and whether it is discarded or stored after use. More importantly, you should seek to find the reasons behind the fast-paced erosion of internet privacy. 

The answers to these questions prove that internet privacy is a fast-fading concept and with time it will be eroded to non-existence. Of course, since there is little to no support from governments as far as internet privacy is concerned, we cannot hope for a resolution in the near future. In fact, most governments are in support of the abolition of internet privacy altogether so they can have free reign in matters of surveillance. But, are we truly out of options? 

The Age of Big Data 

Big Data is one of the core reasons why there is so little internet privacy. Big Data analytics refers to the process of collecting and analyzing data then compiling it into data sets, big data, the applications of which span across numerous fields of study. For instance, the data is used by companies to analyze and predict customer shopping habits and trends and to adjust marketing and sales efforts accordingly. 

Essentially, all your online activities contribute to big data. Of course, the amount and type of data collected depend entirely on the company in question and how they collect the information. There are various ways of collecting big data, some of which are more open and others which are secret. Your daily online activities leave a trail that can be assessed to create a data set. For instance, what time do you usually log online? How many times do you visit particular websites in a day and how long do you spend on each website? How much data do you share on any particular website and which site receives the highest usage? On average, how much data do you use on a daily basis? What kind of data do you share/view the most? Nevertheless, this information is only a drop in the ocean of data that is collected on a daily basis, especially when you include GPS data, online shopping data, social media data and more. Such information when compiled on a daily basis reveals your online habits and interests, which are then exploited by companies in various ways. 

While there are various applications of big data, one of the most visible uses of big data is in machine learning or automation. Compared to before big data, there is more distinct usage of automated intelligence in many fields currently. A clear example is search engines which have grown more robust over the years thanks to big data. However, this is just a small scope of the extent to which machine learning has advanced in recent years due to big data. 

In particular, the field of predictive analytics has experienced the most significant growth. For instance, it is a feasible concept for social media and search engines to be used to diagnose diseases in the future. By correlating the information shared on social media with search engine searches, the data can be used to make a predictive analysis and determine a diagnosis. If a person persistently shares information relating to particular conditions, then proceeds to search for the same symptoms on search engines, a program can subsequently search for the corresponding symptoms on a database and formulate a possible diagnosis. Although this is a futuristic concept, there are various other applications of predictive analysis in effect at the moment, especially when it comes to the sales and marketing fields of business. Additionally, there are other futuristic concepts, such as using big data to determine an individual’s credit score. 

Although big data has its advantages and has led to the advancement of technology by at least a few decades, there are still disadvantages that cannot be overlooked. One of the greatest risks of big data is that it leaves you at the mercy of governments, corporations, and companies. With so much data at their disposal, what is to say that all the data is used in a way that is beneficial to you? Depending on how the information is used, it can be as damaging as it is beneficial. It has always been said that information is power, meaning that those who control big data have power over the masses. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) - Bridging the Online and Offline Worlds 

Aside from big data, another major detriment of internet privacy is the IoT. The IoT refers to a system of interconnected and interrelated devices that facilitate the transfer of information over networks. What sets the IoT apart from normal interconnected systems is that it does not require human-computer or human-human interaction. Instead, the IoT works to automatically bridge the online space and meatspace seamlessly. 

Of course, the IoT is one of the largest contributors of big data, with the data collected being even more comprehensive than data collected online. IoT devices rely on numerous sensors to relay information back and forth, meaning that the information collected has a direct correlation to the meatspace. For instance, a networked house could have multiple smart devices from the entertainment system to the air conditioning unit. Each of these devices collects different data and then correlates it making the data set more comprehensive, which allows for a more streamlined and sophisticated system. 

With the smart devices correlating their data, the benefits offered by the IoT are more refined, allowing you to enjoy near-perfect automation. However, since human input is required at various points in the network, we are still some years away from enjoying full automation, which in itself is a blessing in disguise. The reason why we shouldn’t aspire for full automation just yet is that there are still too many kinks in the IoT that have yet to be fixed, and even more that are yet to be discovered. Should we achieve full automation before the issues are ironed out, we would be staring down at a full machine takeover without the means to stop it. 

Of course, one of the major issues that we have to deal with is internet privacy or lack thereof. Thanks to the influence of the IoT, the erosion of internet privacy is even more apparent. Considering the amount and type of information collected thanks to IoT devices, then one can imagine the risk and consequences if such information were to fall to the wrong hands. 

Nevertheless, even with the evident risk, most smart devices lack security measures to protect the user’s data, which leaves you wide open to an attack. With companies rushing to create devices for the IoT and reap the benefits of the increasing interest in the field, they often forget to establish security measures. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there are yet to be standardized practices for the IoT, which leaves everyone free to decide how to advance. But, would device-based security measures be enough? Even though having a security system installed in every smart device would provide a layer of protection, it is still lacking. Keep in mind that the more devices you have in a network, the greater the risk of exposure to a hack, especially considering that there are different manufacturers for various devices. You should consider the IoT as a whole. Therefore, there won’t be sufficient protection until there is a centralized security system which protects every individual device in the network. 

Additionally, since the IoT is still a new field, all the data collected is still highly useful for companies, meaning that they definitely store the information instead of discarding. As the information exists somewhere, the risk is elevated, since it is always possible for the information to be sold, stolen or mismanaged, which could cause even more dire consequences. 

Another of the significant risks of the IoT lies in the fact that it bridges the gap between the online space and meatspace. Owing to this, it is now possible to commit a crime via the internet and directly affect the meatspace. Initially, internet crimes only had an indirect influence on the offline space. However, thanks to smart devices, it is now possible for an internet crime to be tangible in the offline space. For instance, it is possible to commit murder, arson, and theft directly through the internet. 

It is possible for a hacker to take control of your car while you are driving and drive you off the road or destroy your brakes and such. It is also possible for a hacker to mess with heat sensors in your devices causing them to overheat and possibly cause a fire. A hacker can also take control of your air conditioning unit and reverse the flow of air. There are hundreds of similar possibilities where hackers can wreak havoc to you, your family and your property from miles away at the mere touch of a button. That is the risk posed by the IoT and one that can only be stopped by having a robust security system in place. 

What The Future Holds 

Ever since the Snowden Leaks, there has been an increased focus on internet privacy. Although there were positive reforms soon after, it could be said that currently not only have the reforms regressed, we are even worse off than in the beginning. Without government support, internet privacy is in a constant state of erosion. Unfortunately, thanks to big data and the IoT, the erosion of internet privacy is progressing at an even faster rate with no end in sight. Therefore, it is safe to assume that there won’t be any positive changes to internet privacy in the near future. In fact, we should look forward to an even worse state of affairs. 

Since it is impractical to rely on external help from bodies such as the government and corporations, we should instead focus on what is within our grasp. While it is impossible to stop the erosion of internet privacy, it is not impossible to prevent a breach in your personal internet privacy. Of course, for that to happen, you need to have a deeper understanding of internet privacy, the threats that plague it and the measures to reinforce and protect it. 

The best way to guarantee that you have what little is left of internet privacy is to make use of privacy tools. Of course, this too requires its own deep understanding so you have to do more in-depth research of the same, particularly since there are numerous privacy tools with different functions. Just as important, you should ensure that your information is always updated because security tools and attacks directed at them are always in flux. Although a security tool may offer protection against a particular attack, it may prove ineffectual against a new type of attack. In fact, a new attack may rely on the defense of the security tools as was evidenced by the Wi-Fi KRACK attacks. 

For maximum efficiency, you should rely on multiple privacy tools simultaneously. For instance, you should couple a VPN with Tor, allowing you to maximize the benefits and eliminate the weaknesses. Even then, you should use Tor over VPN instead of VPN over Tor since the former provides the best protection so knowing how to couple multiple privacy tools is equally as important. Additionally, you should rely on anonymous search engines such as DuckDuckGo for browser security, Adblock extensions to prevent the collection of data by third parties and cryptocurrencies to guarantee your privacy and anonymity in financial transactions.

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*by andreascy*

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