Today the ability to share communication privately is an increasingly valuable luxury. The “Information Age” has opened up new channels of business and inspired innovation on a global scale, but it has also changed the fundamental nature of personal privacy and security.
To help protect the confidentiality of the digital data we share, encryption technology makes it more difficult to hack, spy, and steal private information. Cryptographic protocol to encode communication has been around for centuries, however, the arrival of the Internet and the rapid development of other digital tools has had a profound effect on its use in our daily lives.
Public perceptions of encryption have only recently begun to enter international conversations. And while much of this shift can be attributed to whistleblower Edward Snowden, the far-reaching implications of advancing encryption have still yet to be fully explored.
To break it down simply, encryption scrambles data allowing for privacy in messaging, emails, and even phone calls. Encryption protects vulnerable groups by shielding their identities, such as victims of bullying, crime or harassment. It also allows everyday people to conduct business, attend school, apply for employment or aid, and carry out a myriad of other highly private transactions online.
And while encryption technology helps terrorists to hide in the shadows, it also works both ways. “This has created one of the most difficult policy dilemmas of the digital age, as encryption both improves security for consumers and businesses and makes it harder for governments to protect them from other threats,” said a policy paper from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank.
A Catalyst for Change
In 2013, disgruntled National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked classified information to the public to reveal government surveillance programs. His efforts quickly brought the topics of privacy and encrypted data to the forefront of public concern. His bold move continues to be a subject of controversy, but no one can deny his role in bringing these issues to the attention of the general public and as a hotly-discussed topic within mainstream culture.
High-Tech Companies and Legal Battles
Encryption continues to be a top news story with a high-profile battle between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Apple’s refusal to allow the FBI access to a San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone launched public outrage over rights to private communications. Microsoft has stepped forward to sue the Justice Department over disclosure issues for data. The issue of rights to privacy places tech companies in the middle of a difficult controversy. With privacy policies to honor and the rights of their customers in their hands, technology companies are fighting back.
The Dangers of Convenience
As technology expands to offer more conveniences, the dangers of hacked technology are more apparent. Data can be used to control home systems and cars which allows thieves new pathways for access. While passing through these complex channels, there are many potential opportunities for data to be stolen. For example, “smart homes” allow homeowners to control home systems such as security alarms, surveillance systems, lighting, climate control, and more (see a full list here). If the transmitted data used for this is not encrypted, it is potentially vulnerable to thieves. In a recent test of smart home systems, it took security researchers less than 20 minutes to access homes controlled by smartphones.
How to Protect Your Smartphone Data
Protecting your own smartphone can include apps for secure email, messaging and phone calls. These secure communication systems typically require both the sender and recipient to have the apps installed. You should avoid using public Wi-Fi, and you should use your lockout feature to prevent unauthorized access to your phone. Do not set your smartphone to remember your passwords for email or private banking information.
Use end-to-end encryption ensures that only the sender and the recipient have access to the data. This type of encryption specifically excludes the service providers whose system is being used to transmit the data. This means that an Internet provider does not have access to the type of data law enforcement agencies seek.
Many consumers can see both sides of these issues. Valid concerns about the horror of terrorism are balanced by one’s own right to private communications with the use of modern technology. With legal battles and new legislation pending, the expectation of privacy is at stake should the government’s ability to breach data become commonplace.
About the author -:
Beth Kelly is a freelance writer and blogger. Born and raised in Michigan, she moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University where she graduated with a BA in Communications and Media. She lived in Krakow, Poland briefly before moving to South Korea to teach English. Follow her on Twitter