A personal awareness in technology

Andrew De La Rosa is an undergraduate student at Florida International
University studying computer engineering with concentrations in
computer architecture and network security. He is currently employed
as a DOE (Dept. of Energy) Fellow with the Applied Research Center at
Florida International University. He is currently enrolled to start
his graduate courses in 2015 for his Master’s in Computer Engineering,
specifically cybersecurity. His goals are to one day work with the
federal government with the DOE in cyber-related projects. He
currently lives in Miami, FL. His hobbies include teaching and
practicing karate with the Zanchin-Dojo, and running for
health-related organizations such as Relay for Life and MS Walk

As children, we are taught to take responsibility for our actions. Whether these actions are good or bad, there are consequences that are attached to them. As we grow older, the choices we make are sometimes not as simple as right or wrong, rather there are benefits and repercussions that follow. We must then make a conscious choice on what we believe is right or wrong. With technology progressing at such an exponential rate, the interconnectivity of social media and financial takeaways have endowed themselves with a sense of normalcy in daily life. Unfortunately, today’s society does not have the fundamental knowledge to understand the risks when it comes to situations such as identity theft, privacy policies, and the implications of social media. In order to change the world, one must learn to change themselves.

Identity theft is one of the hardest criminal acts to deal with, simply because the process to correct it takes several months, even years at times. Back in the late 70’s and 80’s, all financial crimes were committed on paper media, so the process of back tracking and catching thieves was usually localized to a certain area. Today, the internet has allowed black-hat hackers to steal information virtually from anywhere in the world. These hackers can steal the information off of the magnetic strip of your credit card using a simple piece of hardware and get access to information such as your address, bank information, and card numbers. The more publicized version of this event is when hackers steal information from a company. An example of this was the attack on Sony, where more than 1 million accounts were hacked and the information stolen from the PSN (Playstation Network). Unfortunately, almost everyone in the world is a potential victim of identity theft and there is no clear cut way to stop it.

However, the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) offer a yearly credit report check for free. This report accumulates a variety of information collected over the years such as the number of times creditors ask for your information (such as the free credit card applications in the mail), your open credit card accounts (with detailed summary of your payment history), as well as your personal information for contact. In the event that you believe that your information is at risk, you can claim a free 90-day fraud credit hold on your account. This hold prevents your information from being released automatically and all inquiries on your account would be monitored, and this hold is also forwarded to the subsequent bureaus (so you only need to do it with one bureau, instead of having to contact all 3). Checking your credit score yearly helps make sure that there are no open accounts under your name without your knowledge, and making sure that any existing accounts are up-to-date with your own records. Remember that the computer is only as correct as the users that update the information so there is always room for error.

When it comes to privacy policies, the simplest example is when you are trying installing a program. There is a gray box that appears and tells you that you are attempting to install a program. After you choose where you want the program to be installed, you must agree to the terms and conditions of this program before you can install the program. This document is written in a language that makes you want to fall asleep and you spam click ‘Continue’ until it finishes and says that you installed your program. Almost everyone who owns a computer does this because they don’t care about how to use the program, rather they want to just open the program and use it. Often times, these terms and conditions have important information that dictate how they can claim rights to certain information. Sometimes, these policies give the owners of that program the right to track your information by hacking the program from their end and seeing how you use it. The moment you click ‘Accept’, there is no fighting them, because you consented to something you supposedly read and agreed to.

An excellent parody of this is the South Park episode, where Kyle agrees to the terms and conditions of the latest iTunes update, and the Apple employees kidnap him. As he runs to his friends, they consistently ask him, “Why didn’t you read the agreement before you accepted?” Now in the real world, Apple is not coming to steal you from your home because you accepted the agreement, but if for instance you are pirating music and uploading the channels on iTunes and they see it, you agreed that you would not add any stolen merchandise (because music is considered digital property), so they would be obligated to shut you down and revoke any access remotely.

A separate example of this is torrenting illegal programs, music, or even illegal files. Many of these websites have an enormous amount of malware attached to them, even the files themselves. Many people do not want to pay for these programs so they download it illegally, and after installing it download a key generator to have full access to the program’s features. Many people do not realize that the program itself could have been a hacked version of the original; the black-hat hacker could have injected a number of malware into the program that could activate once the program is launched on your computer. The malware could then open a number of backdoors to allow access into your computer, crash services that make your computer extremely slow, or disable your computer all together. So be weary of what you download because you never know who is watching you once that file is open.

One of the great inventions of our generation is not a physical invention, but a digital one. Social media has become of our timeless necessities because it has the potential of uniting people together under one common ground, regardless of their location in the world. While it is a great place that gives us news, comedic videos, and even the occasional funny meme, there are times were the actions on social media can be implicating. Many people believe that if something gets released on the internet, then people will not see it if it does not get a massive amount of attention. This line of thinking is completely wrong. The moment it gets on the internet, it only takes one rumor to create a firestorm; it is almost impossible to get rid of information off the internet. The only way is to get a court order to have the servers remove that information, but if a user has that information downloaded locally, there is nothing no one can do.

One of the most exciting new apps today is called Snapchat, where you can send photos and videos to your friends and once they are viewed, are deleted. Because of the way that people believe Snapchat works, many people have opted to ‘sext’ (text messages that consist of sexual images) believing that the images do not save. While this is true that the images do not save on Snapchat’s servers, the images are instead saved on the local phone’s hard drive, in a folder that is inaccessible to the owner’s view. There are several applications that help expose these files such as dSploit, that is able to recover all files and folders an android phone, even if it was deleted (this includes all the files from Snapchat. Someone that has received those images can then save them onto their phone locally and upload them to their respective person’s webpage and cause a number of problems for them (both socially and for the future). A recent example of this is about a number of celebrities took photos of themselves and the iCloud was hacked, revealing these photos on a separate web page. While many blamed Apple for the security leaks that appeared, Apple is not liable for the content that you put on your phone and sync with your iCloud photos.

There are reasons for why things happen in our lives and while sometimes we are not liable as to why it happened, we have to take care of the problem. Sometimes the first step in avoiding a problem such as those are to be aware of its existence and not cause the problem from beginning by making such a mistake. Responsibility begins with ourselves and if we learn to manage those responsibilities in a consistent and respectable manner, then the chances of being exposed to identity theft, malware, or even social media problems drop significantly. And while many people say the phrase ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once), what tends to transcend time is the legacies that we create in our lifetimes.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest