I was honored to be invited to a panel entitled “Global Risk 2012: The dark side of connectivity” to address world leaders at the Davos Annual Meeting. As much as I am thrilled to be part of a discussion about the rapidly evolving privacy and security risks of the world of communications, I do not believe that the ”dark side” is specific to connectivity.
It is true that we cannot really control the information that has been published or simply recorded. However, was this ever different? Imagine a married man seen kissing another woman on the street. The private information of him cheating is still his, but it also belongs to any witness. We can’t take back anything that has been said or done once someone else has heard or seen it. The Internet works the same way, but amplified. The same goes for criminality – it has always been possible to burgle, steal or sabotage. What has really evolved is the scale of exposure, thus the scale of the challenge.
The data, our data, is everywhere. As you’re reading this, it is being widespread to yet another server, sharing application or advertising system. Our data is being transferred and distributed in a way that we are not always aware of. Do we fully realize the data we’re giving out to online services we subscribe to? If we knew, we’d be surprised.
A new kind of carefulness is required. Much like parents once told their children to be careful not to give out their home key to strangers on the street, the next generation of parents had to teach their children not to disclose their home address in online chats. This new kind of carefulness demands for the evolution of education towards a better understanding of the world of connectivity. Today’s parents need to teach about choosing strong passwords and not sharing them among friends.
Once we’ll learn how to be more careful on the Internet, we will gain the ability to protect ourselves against criminality. Security on the web has no choice but to be reactive. The nature of the Internet is like an unplanned metropolis – there’s no accounting for its millions of back doors and hidden passageways. Our only option is to become smarter about reacting to threats and conveying defensive information about them to the rest of us. The more we put ourselves out there, the more we expose ourselves to risk but also the more we’re connected and can combine our vigilance. Millions of people report harmful websites everyday. Open source software become more robust as thousands of eyes scrutinize their code for vulnerabilities. We should be on the look for more opportunities to defend ourselves together in new areas such as with BillGuard, the company I co-founded. BillGuard is the first people-powered “antivirus for bills”. It alerts consumers of deceptive and fraudulent charges by harnessing from vigilant consumers identifying these threats on their bills.
Learning how to be vigilant and combining our vigilance at scale is the new kind of carefulness which constitutes our best line of defense in a hyperconnected world where security can only be reactive.