Security Crisis Solved: More secure logins, not sharing personal information, and the use of encryption software. The internet is a constantly changing and evolving environment. From its earliest days in the late 60s, when the very first small networks were brought online, to today’s massive and long-reaching web of connection, change is one of the few things that can be reliably predicted. This change is not only fast, but also dangerous to those who don’t understand or fully appreciate its potential to damage them or society.

As the internet evolves to do nearly everything but sustain life itself, security becomes paramount. Internet users need to be more aware of today’s increasing rate of cyber-attacks and should stop sharing their personal information, use more secure logins, and utilize encryption software to protect themselves from the cyber-crime. As are many important issues of today, this is a complex and multi-layered problem. “Cyber security” refers to either that of the individual, that of a website or business, or that of government agencies.

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The largest issue is the release of personal information, which happens with the security breach of personal accounts on an individual level, business records on a corporate level, or residence, tax, or employment information on a governmental level. It begins with the individual and the way they treat, view, and use internet services. The cliches that existed in the beginning of chat rooms and online services (“don’t give anyone your last name or any personal information”) seem to have died sometime overnight.

My generation has apparently given up all right to internet privacy without a fight or second thought. People use social media as if it is their personal confession box at the expense of any discretion. Whether this is done out of pleas for validation, pity, or empathy is irrelevant; it has become popularized and accepted as standard practice. On the popular social media site Facebook, simply “Liking” a status or post can give a competent observer more information about the user than he or she could possibly imagine.

In a recent Guardian article analyzing a Cambridge study that used computer algorithms to predict personal details about Facebook users, the author stated, The research into 58,000 Facebook users in the US found that sensitive personal characteristics about people can be accurately inferred from information in the public domain…Researchers were able to accurately infer a Facebook user's race, IQ, sexuality, substance use, personality or political views using only a record of the subjects and items they had "liked" on Facebook – even if users had chosen not to reveal that information.

Users of these services are disclosing more then they think. On the internet, everything has the potential to be permanent; storage capacity is virtually unlimited. Deleting profiles and other things left strewn in servers is much more difficult than one might think. At one time, people confided in one another through disclosure and built trust, and thus created strong interpersonal relationships. This forfeiting of all privacy on the individual’s part puts the user at a very large data security risk.

But not only is personal information disclosed with a loose tongue (or fingers), many people are failing to give it some of the only protection that is within their control. Oftentimes, passwords or phrases are short, containing common (or easily guessable) combinations of letters, numbers, or words. Additionally, the same password is commonly used for years. In 2011, a survey published by Daily Finance revealed that a staggering 59. 9% of respondents reportedly never changed their passwords, compared to 13. 9% changing them once per year, and 11. 8% changing them once per month (Nance-Nash).

This is a very poor practice that greatly increases a users’ vulnerability. It is also very common for an individual to use the same one or two passwords across dozens of separate internet services, which is an enormous security risk. Typically, the security of social media services like Facebook and Twitter is less than that of a large financial institution like the Bank of America, and understandably so.

If hackers successfully compromise Twitter accounts, which happens with fairly frequent success, it could possibly give the attackers automatic access to much more detrimental web services like online banking or investing. These cyber-attacks can happen everywhere. In fact, corporations are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber warfare for many reasons. The largest is the incredibly large amount of personal data that is held on corporate servers, often unencrypted and vulnerable. This greatly attracts the attention of criminals looking to steal identities and hijack bank and trading accounts.

Even if you are not a patron of a business, your information may be held by them because of a practice called data mining. Data mining occurs when companies collect information about you due to things you publicly display, or pay companies already in procession of the data for the usage of it. From a business standpoint, this may be a profitable practice because it allows advertising divisions and marketing teams which demographics to focus on. But personal information is not a business commodity.

When entire companies exist solely for the purpose of buying and selling information, security and privacy on the internet have reached a critical state. Organized cybercrime is also on the rise. The loosely knit hacker groups calling themselves “Anonymous” have, in their brief history, unleashed a slew of attacks against individuals and businesses alike. Deeming themselves “hacktivists”, the group has carried out these attacks apparently in the name of reform. It is easy to glorify their actions, but they have all the traits and characteristics of a terrorist organization and are treated as such by government institutions.

On April 7, 2013, Anonymous carried out a massive cyber-attack on an Israeli bank which caused a negative effect across “100,000 websites, 40,000 Facebook pages, 5,000 Twitter accounts and 30,000 bank accounts” (Estes). Thousands of names and bank account information was spilled into the group’s webpage before it too was shut down. This is just one tiny fragment of what an organized group is capable of, and there are likely many more hiding in the shadows. Fortunately, fighting technology with technology remains an option; in fact, it may be the only one left.

Encryption software designed for personal use has become user friendly and intuitive. Biometric features such as finger print readers are already common on recently manufactured laptops. Facial and even retinal recognition hardware and software is currently in development. Security Management in Apple products are starting to release new preventative measures as like continuous facial authentication functionality that checks computer users’ faces every 10 seconds using the front facing camera. If the viewer steps away from the computer, the system will successfully lock.

Upon return, the user will see an image of their face on the computer screen. Once it sees the owners face the computer unlocks almost instantly. There is also an option for the computer to snap a picture of the potential hijacker before the operating system is locked down (Wagley). Presently, these features can do no more than protect your hard drives and physical computer; that is, they are used to log on to your computer and will not help you stay safe on the internet. But it is a step in the right direction and shows hope for the future.

Since there is little security on the internet, it should be treated at all times with this fact in mind. I have seen people log into their bank account from unsecured coffee shop networks without a second thought. An unsecure wireless network means it has no security whatsoever and anyone can get onto it without a password or key. Anyone could be sniffing the network, even from a good distance away. They will operate under the radar without anyone knowing, that’s why the internet needs to be treated with more weariness.

The best way to keep yourself safe on an unsecure network is to make sure you have anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a firewall installed on your computer. Also under no circumstances use an unsecured network for any finances-related work like checking your online checking, online banking statements, or making credit card purchases. Everyday lives are destroyed because of this ignorance and blind faith in something that is only vaguely understood. Everything is capable of being compromised (with greatly varying degrees of difficulty, effort, and illegality, of course) and this is a fact that is too often forgotten.

We see ourselves safe within our computer, willingly trading privacy for features on ever present social media websites, and never giving any of it a second thought how it could be affecting us. Personal information is becoming a commodity on the internet so next time you share yours think about your current security and the possible consequences. If this is not carefully rethought by an entire generation we are going to pay the price; if not in five years, the break will occur in ten, or twenty. Trust is not to be put into any institution and few individuals, much less ones you have never even met.

Businesses are out of control with respect to the amount of information and what they are allowed to do with it. Every single thing that you do on the internet is tracked and logged by several institutions, depending on which websites you are on and what you are doing. The “I have nothing to hide” argument does not hold weight as it is a slippery slope that could lead to stolen assets or identity theft. If you have nothing to hide, why do you have curtains or wear clothes? If you have nothing to hide, you’re not living.