There have been a few pieces of recent news that made me feel, once again, that perhaps I’m not the only one with a turbulent relationship to changing communication technologies.
Last week, on Oct. 28, the Syrian Electronic Army struck again. The group of hackers supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime took credit for redirecting links from President Barack Obama’s campaign social media to propaganda videos for the group. Though the digital “army” did not gain direct access to Obama’s Facebook or Twitter accounts, it did hack the link shortener used by the campaign.
On Tuesday, there were reports suggesting that FoxNews.com had been hacked after the front page included a headline that read “WEEEEEEEEEEEEE” and a deck underneath that said, “Stuff yo.” It turns out that “during routine website maintenance, a home page prototype was accidentally moved to the actual site,” Fox News Chief Digital Officer Jeff Misenti said in a statement to the Huffington Post. A hacking it was not. But the experience is still indicative of how the Internet can be a place where what we intend is not always what is displayed.
OK, in all honesty, neither of these news pieces were so revolutionary. It’s something we’ve been seeing for quite some time. But if Obama’s social media can get hacked, then I’ll feel slightly less bad next time you get that direct message from me with a sketchy link asking you to check out what people are saying about you online.
If you’ve read my column in the past, you’ll know that my fears range from being turned into a viral meme to having some minor difficulties controlling my phone. And so, as you can imagine, there are very few things that give me more unease than the hacker.
Luckily, I don’t have too much experience with being hacked, minus the occasional friend-changes-Facebook-status-when-you’re-not-looking situation.
Well, there was this one time freshman year. I was minding my own business (actually pledging a fraternity) when I got a frantic call from none other than my very own mom.
“Daniel, did you see the email you just sent out?”
The answer was a resounding and obvious no. Of course, there was nothing I could do about it. I was only a pledge and couldn’t leave just because my AOL (yes, I still have one) account had been hacked.
When I did see the email, however, I must admit I understood why my mom had been so panicky. The email, which had something to do with muscle-building supplements (I think) had gone out to everyone I’d ever emailed, from former bosses to family to robotic “reply@” addresses. Whoops.
I had become the worst thing imaginable: a spammer.
As time went by, though, this fear went from reality to something barely considered in the back of my mind. That is, until the same thing happened with my Gmail account over the summer. Now the fear is back and in full force.
Trivial spam aside, hacking is a serious issue and one that’s only likely to grow in seriousness, as digital technology becomes more integrated with daily aspects of life. Already, we’re seeing hacking to gain information, not only about individuals, but also about different governments and their programs.
Back in May, for example, the Washington Post reported that “designs for many of the nation’s most sensitive advanced weapons systems have been compromised by Chinese hackers, according to a report prepared for the Pentagon and to officials from government and the defense industry.
And that’s only one example of an aspect of civic life increasingly open to hacks.
Other aspects of life, as they become more reliant on digital technology, are becoming evermore exposed to hackers. This includes records kept by insurance companies, doctor’s offices, banks, etc…
And, of course, there’s the National Security Administration (but I’ll have to leave that for another column).
It’s because of reaction to news of frequent hacks that my mom refuses to hand out any personal information without a hard-fought (and often lengthy) battle.
But I get it. It is scary to know that private, personal information is so close to the fingertips of others. It’s perhaps even more worrisome to realize that systems you might believe more secure, such as an email account, can so easily be compromised.
Sure it’s a relatively minor, albeit embarrassing, issue to have your email compromised so that it sends a muscle-building supplement ad to all of your contacts. For the most part, people know what’s spam and what’s not.
But what if it was worse?
In a world more prone to hacks, everyone ranging from individuals to large companies has a responsibility to understand hackers, their modes of entry, and to defend themselves accordingly. When it comes to this 21st Century Fear, it’s likely we’ve only seen the beginning.
Daniel Rothberg is a junior majoring in political science. His column “21st Century Fears” runs Thursdays.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielRothberg