Now more than ever, people are spending large quantities of time on the internet. As a result, it is also a lot easier for hackers to get a hold of personal information and data and pass it off on the internet, becoming permanently ingrained in the matrix. What can we do to protect our personal information today? This is an important question we must ask ourselves as we navigate our day-to-day lives with the internet and smart devices at our fingertips. Because we are spending so much of our lives online, it is essential that we know how to keep our online footprint clean.
Professor David Lie, from the University of Toronto’s Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering, presented a lecture, called “A look at security and privacy on smartphones,” on November 25, 2020, as part of the Schwartz Reisman Institute guest speaker series. In this talk, Professor Lie explained how while it is convenient to have an application for just about everything, this also leaves us vulnerable to personal data and identity theft. Professor Lie also reminded us how we unknowingly grant developers access to our data. When we download a new app, we are asked to grant permission for our location, camera, microphone, and storage—most often accepting without thinking twice.
Why do some users grant permission so easily? Individuals will most likely grant permission because they want a feature that requires access to a certain phone facet and/or believe that the app won’t work altogether without this access. On the other hand, why do some people deny these permission requests? People often deny these requests because they feel more secure knowing they can grant access if they change their minds afterwards. Others deny these requests because they believe that the app doesn’t need this information or that there isn’t a good enough reason as to why the app will need this particular data. It is important to be aware when we make these decisions and only give access to our personal information and programs when necessary.
Professor Lie’s lecture also highlighted that it is not only individual hackers that can gain access to our personal data but also large corporations that can compromise our data.
As technology continues to be increasingly integrated into our daily lives, many users have fallen victim to hackers and data threats. In 2018, Facebook had a security breach that exposed around 50 million users and their personal data. This raised a lot of questions about what media companies are doing to protect users’ private information. Google’s terms and conditions transparently outline its data collection practices. The corporation’s many platforms have the ease of access to track each of its consumers—even to greater extents with consumers using its services on an Android device due to the inherent integration of the Google products.
Alexander Cybulski, University of Toronto iSchool Institue Ph.D. candidate, says that when creating an account, “it is always good to have a two-factor authentication to make sure that it is harder for hackers or people to get your personal information.” It is also significant to note that it is not just hackers who would want your information. Individuals in our lives, such as friends and family, may have ill intentions to get access to your personal information. However, data theft has now become more difficult to do, as Cybulski explains how most of our information is now in an encrypted state. “This means that if someone wants to steal data, and they have physical access to your phone, and they copied the information, they wouldn’t be able to open it unless they had the password or encryption key to decode it,” says Cybulski.
It is important to note that the type of technology you have also plays a factor in how likely you are to experience information or identity theft. Having a newer phone such as an iPhone or Android device made after 2016 will allow your data to be more secure. This is because major technology companies have recently emphasized in their brand ethics and manufacturing processes their prioritization of data security.
Privacy protection is key, and governments are taking action to protect citizens and their information. On the Government of Canada website, the re-vamped Privacy Act highlights privacy protection measures in Canada. The measures work with different regimes to be proactive and educative in overseeing conformity to privacy laws.
As avid users of technology, we must keep our personal information safe. As mentioned previously, it is vital to have two-factor authentication when creating internet accounts to impede hackers from guessing our passwords. Moreover, it is essential to create strong passwords and change them regularly. But it is also important to remember that we have to consider what we want to put online because once it is there, it remains there forever, no matter what we do to try to erase it. In terms of protecting our privacy, Cybulski says, “the most important thing we can do to protect the confidentiality of data on our phones is to always make sure that all of the applications that you are using are up to date.” This exists “so that the app can fix patches and vulnerabilities in the software.”
As technology takes over our daily lives our right to privacy should begin with keeping certain information off of the internet and potentially out of the hands of hackers. Because of the uncertainty of these cyber attacks, the more we are protected, the better. The internet is permanent—both in its information and in its role in society. It’s here to stay, and for this reason, we should prepare to guard ourselves against its consequences.