Just How Bad Could Hacking Get?

After the recent Sony hack, I found myself angry and upset. Unlike most cases involving hacking, the perpetrators were trying to stop the release of a movie and to dictate behavior instead of stealing personal or credit card information. This is a significant switch in behavior, but it also illustrates just one more way hacking can impact our lives and how we, as a people, will have to continue to deal with these threats. It should also raise some other, more ethical concerns. Consider the 1993 classic, Jurassic Park. Yes it was just a movie, but the underlying message was an ethical dilemma; just because we can, should we?

I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now your selling it. – Dr. Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park 1993

While it could be argued the internet is not science in the traditional sense, the central theme of the argument still applies. We have built the internet so quickly and a lot of folks have capitalized on its growth without any thoughts to the implications and now we sit here and find ourselves open to attacks from other countries. Before international hacking, all I had to worry about were the thieves in my community stealing from me, but now people all around the world can steal from me. Heck, they can steal my entire identity and seriously impact my life as I try and clean up the mess they leave behind. And there is nothing I or law enforcement can do to a group of hackers in some remote part of the world. Never before have the people of the United States been so vulnerable to criminals, and now apparently other governments, than we have been before.

I sat down the other day and tried to think about how exposed I am on the internet. I consider myself pretty conservative when it comes to who I give my information too and even now, there are only a few companies I am willing to give my credit card to use for payment. Despite that, I started writing down websites I frequent and to whom I have given my information by registering in their system. I got to 30 pretty quickly so I can only imagine how many are actually out there. Have you ever gone to a website and you are not sure if you ever registered or not so you try logging in and sure enough, you did register? Imagine how many of those sites are out there where you may have only visited a couple of times but to find what you are looking for, you had to register. It’s scary to think about how many different places your information could be and how many different ways people could find information on you.

Of course, we have not even talked about the government. Regardless of your stance, this is no longer about just our government. We worry so much about what our government is accessing or has access to that we have not even considered what other governments are doing to us. Should there be more regulations on the internet? Not just in banking, but should we have tighter regulations on how companies store information? Should they purge customer information for customers who have not visited their site in the last 12 months? Should everyone be required to have a minimum level of encryption or security? These are the kinds of conversations we should all be having or we should at least know where the company we are about to transact with stands on these topics. Shouldn’t there be some sort of consumer protection?

We have all willingly provided corporations with a lot of our personal information. They know where we shop, if we watch porn, our political affiliations, our religion, what books we like to read and if we cook or eat out. We post all of our information on social media sites or we register on a new website almost daily. We file our taxes online, manage our budgets through a mobile device, store photos and important documents in clouds, and we do this every day without a thought to who could have or get access to our information. The worst part is we get all upset when someone hacks us and we look around and point fingers at everyone but ourselves. Is that fair?

Imagine hacking going to the next level. We started with thieves, now we have outside influences trying to dictate what we can say or do. What if next time they threaten to shut down our electricity in the middle of winter? Consider hacking so sophisticated it could essentially render our military useless. Imagine hackers getting control of our satellites or shutting down our communication? They turn off all of our systems or do major damage to it, what kind of impact would that have on our lives?

I am all for an open internet and a free sharing of information for everyone, but are we okay sharing information when there are plenty around the world who do not feel the same way we do? If others do not have the same values we have, are we still okay with an open internet? As a country, I think we look at things like how does this impact us, but the internet is just not us. It’s anyone in the world with access to the internet.

I don’t have any answers, but much like Dr. Malcom from Jurassic Park, I sometimes wonder if we have moved too fast with the internet and at the same time, we are not taking enough responsibility for how we got here.