Friday, December 17, 2010

The Net, better than a bucket for catching leaks

It seems that the internet has become synonymous with leaked information this week.

If it's not a new chapter in the ongoing Wikileaks saga and the fate of its founder Julian Assange, it's a leaked screen shot from Yahoo which indicates where it'll be cutting costs and services or a snafu over at Facebook which prematurely exposed new features that nobody was supposed to know about.

And that's the problem with the internet and modern digital technology -- it's so damned fast and ubiquitous that a single slip of the fingers or mistaken click of the mouse can instantly expose your secrets to all the world. What's more, it's becoming increasingly difficult to protect your valuable digital data from being stolen or distributed without permission.

Take the Wikileaks situation for example...

There are hundreds of thousands of documents involved in the latest tranche of information being published from the secret files of the US government. Can you imagine how hard it would have been to smuggle that much data out of a government department before the advent of digital technology?

One hundred thousand A4 pages of typed material alone is a stack some 10 metres tall -- not something you can smuggle out past a security guard by slipping it into your sock.

However, with microSD cards now capable of storing 8GB of data, a single fingernail sized fragment of plastic encapsulated silicon can carry nearly quarter of a million typed pages worth of "secrets" and be easily secreted about one's person without raising suspicion. It's now quite practical to swallow a company or government's secrets along with your lunch and recover them a day or two later from the convenience of your "convenience".

A quick look on any of the popular Chinese online retail websites also shows that something as useful as a USB drive can be had in many different forms, many of which you'd never dream were actually concealing a huge chunk of digital flash memory.

But not only does this technology make it easy to actually smuggle information out of the places where it might be found but it also simplifies the process of duplication and dissemination.

Photocopying 200,000 typed documents would take an age -- copying the contents of a flash drive or memory card takes just a few minutes at most. Send those files via the internet and they can be half way around the world in just a few more minutes.

Just like privacy, it would appear that the concept of secrecy is now a dying concept -- something that has been rendered near-impossible by technology.

Even if you think your secrets are safe in the cloud -- think again. As the recent database break-in at Gawker Media shows, even online security is a myth.

It is true, we do live in interesting times.

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