Privacy in the Digital Age

We all value our privacy. Whether it’s enjoying a quiet place to think, or just wanting to keep your personal items private. Diaries have locks, safes have keys and some people even hide possessions in mattresses and under loose floorboards.

The truth is we all have secrets, and people have become pretty adept and hiding them over the centuries.

So logically, uncovering those hidden secrets can be a pretty lucrative profession.

Today’s post is going to address some of the major privacy issues that have been cropping up in the media ever since Heartbleed bled out the Internet. Hopefully, it will make you a little more aware of how public our secrets really are.

CONVERSNITCH LAMP

When is a lamp not a lamp? When it’s a hidden microphone that is wirelessly recording and tweeting everything you say.

Photo by Kyle McDonald

Photo by Kyle McDonald

Conversnitch is a wireless recorder that resembles a lamp or a light bulb. Built for less than $100, it listens in and records nearby conversations. These aren’t even stored in the lamp itself; instead they are instantly livetweeted to Twitter. As long as there is Wi-Fi, this data can be sent in real time. Once something is recorded and shared, there is no way to take it back.

You can actually check out Conversnitches Twitter feeds HERE 

Conversntich is built using very simple parts that anyone can get. They include:

  • A Raspberry Pi Miniature computer
  • LED light source
  • Plastic Flower Pot

The creators, Kyle McDonald and Brian House, say they created Conversnitch not to earn money, but to raise questions about the nature of public and private spaces in an era when anything can be broadcast by ubiquitous, internet-connected listening devices.

MICROSOFT CAUGHT SNOOPING

 

eyes

Think you’re emails are secure? Think again! A court case back in March in the United States revealed that Microsoft exercises the right to access any content on its email, chat areas, forums and other communication facilities.

This all came to light when lines of code from the Windows 8 operating system were leaked in 2012. Microsoft set out to find the source of the leak, and they admitted to searching through inboxes to do so.

This is especially ironic considering that Microsoft has attacked its rival Google for going through its own customer emails to deliver ads.

How can they do this? Well, we all agree to it when we check the ‘I Agree’ box in those lovely terms and services agreements. Anyone who signs up for a Hotmail or Outlook account gives the company permission to access all information on its ‘communication services,’ which includes email, chat rooms, forums and other services.

LETS TAKE A TEST

Last year, US security contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the government is snooping on Internet accounts. To test this theory, Cyber-security company High-Tech Bridge set out to test the confidentiality of 50 of the biggest internet companies. They did this by using their systems to send a unique web address in private messages. They then waited to see what companies would click on the website.

FAIL

During the 10 day operation, SIX of the companies had opened the link that was only sent in a private message.

Among those six were:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Discussion forum Formspring

We found they were clicking on links that should be known only to the sender and the recipient. If the links are being opened, we cannot be sure that the contents of messages are not also being read –High-Tech Bridge chief executive Llia Kolochenko

 

AOL ZOMBIE ACCOUNTS

Back in April American On-line turned into a Zombie! Well, sort of – but the ramifications were just as dire.

zombie

AoL lost ‘a significant number’ of email addresses, passwords, contact lists and postal addresses to hackers.

They didn’t release the exact numbers, but from their description of the incident the total number could be in the tens of millions. Hackers are bringing these long dead AoL accounts back to life and using them for Spoofing.

Email-spoofing-is-the

These accounts are being used to send both viruses and spam to everyone on their contact lists. That old “NSYNCYFAN” email account could very well be coming back to haunt you and everyone you care about.

INTERNET EXPLORER POSSESSED

ghost

This one has thankfully been fixed by now, but last month there was a virus that may very well have dealt the death blow to the Internet Explorer browser.

If you were using Internet Explorer and clicked on the wrong link, a hacker could hijack your computer remotely

This is how it worked: Hackers set up a website that installed malware when you visited it. If you made the mistake of visiting this website while using the Internet explorer program, that malware would seep into your computer and give a stranger total control. The worst thing? The user might not even notice.

That’s where the real danger lies. Anyone in control of your computer can spy on everything you do. If it’s a PC at work, hackers can reach into anything an employee has access to. If it’s a personal computer, bank codes and Paypal accounts could be up for grabs.

Thankfully a week or so later a patch was released that repaired this problem.

DROPBOX SPRUNG A LEAK

dropbox

Dropbox has fallen victim to an exploit that allows privately shared files to be read by anyone.

Dropbox-is-a-home-for

 

Dropbox is a cloud-storage provider. It allows users to share links to the documents they have stored on the Dropbox server.

The problem lies in the security of those stored documents. But sending those links out, third parties whom you didn’t intend to see it can access them as well.

The technical details about how this is happening are complicated, but what it comes down to is this: people are accidently entering the intended recipient information into an incorrect box. By doing this, the file is not just shared with who you want it to be, but search providers and ad networks as well.

Dropbox says it’s working to fix the problem by disabling any previously shared links that might be vulnerable to leakage.

RESET THE NET

With all of these leaks and concerns, it should come as no surprise that there is now a counter movement occuring.

A group of nearly two-dozen tech companies and civil liberties groups are launching a new fight against mass internet surveillance, hoping to battle the NSA in much the same way campaigners pushed back on bad piracy legislation in 2012.

 

If Reset the Net passes, it will certainly be interesting to see how Privacy laws and securities are effected.

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