Privacy, hacking, data breaches, and identity theft.
These are the hottest topics this week for some 25,000 industry consultants, sponsors, vendors, and buyers of computer security products gathered at Moscone Convention Center for the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco. Some members of the Gutenberg PR team are on-site there as well.
For the uninitiated, RSA is “Where the World Talks Security,” according to the event’s tagline. In fact, the world talks security just about everywhere these days. Few topics can get the Internet community as riled up as cybersecurity, and it’s no wonder people are so concerned about the problem of privacy.
There’s really no place to hide online, as evidenced by a recent spate of shocking news disclosures. The headlines include NSA tracking of phone calls and emails by U.S. citizens and allies, and hackers stealing credit card data from millions of shoppers at Target.com and other major retailers. In this uncertain climate, should Edward Snowden – the former government contractor and NSA whistleblower – be considered an American traitor, a courageous patriot who spoke truth to power, or something in-between?
Security experts say that as long as computer data exists, it will be exploited by new forms of computer fraud, prompting new strategies to prevent that fraud. This cat-and-mouse game of “firewall” has become an accepted truth, just as theft and robbery continue to exist as long as there’s money to be made. Everyday folk are often caught in the crossfire of this costly game, and that is exactly what security conferences like RSA are focused on preventing.
Ultimately, what’s so disturbing about computer fraud is that it gets at the nitty-gritty of who we are, what we do, and where we live. Some people have adopted Bitcoin accounts to protect their identities in financial transactions. But even Bitcoin brokerages are not immune from being hacked, as Mt. Gox – the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchange based in Tokyo – learned on Tuesday.
It’s bad enough having your virtual currency stolen, but it’s another thing to feel totally violated when someone spoofs your address and phone number and other personal info to rack up untold charges on your debit card before you or your bank even have a clue about the breach.
In other words, computer snooping has become personal, and that’s partly why German Chancellor Angela Merkel was so incensed by the NSA’s intrusions into her phone conversations. But this trend also speaks to a prevalent anxiety of our times—a faint sense of dread and paranoia that our every transaction is being recorded, our every interaction is being videotaped, and our every whereabouts is being logged by some GPS recording device.
Of course, new technologies continually emerge to offer built-in anonymity, such as photos that immediately disappear in Snapchat, or social media messages that mask your real identity in the Whisper app. Still, it’s hard not to feel like Big Brother is constantly monitoring everything day and night, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
In this age of full digital immersion and constant connectivity, we have no real choice but to forge on and live loudly in the open. At least we can embrace the protective services offered by the very cybersecurity companies attending this week’s RSA conference, because this is one problem that’s not going away anytime soon.