Hacking and Privacy

Privacy is an illusion. We live in a world of constant government surveillance for “protection”. While this realization that privacy is merely an illusion sets in, I have been fascinated with how one’s privacy can be invaded through a lack of security. Whether by the government or by hacker, our devices such as smart phones, smart TVs, or virtually anything with a camera have been seen as a potential hazard to our privacy. For those like me, who are not familiar with how hacking works, there’s an air of mystique and confusion around hacking. This confusion seems to add to the fear that someone is controlling our devices.

In the 21st century, American society has been wary of phones since it gained knowledge of the Patriot Act. Knowledge of the potential equipment and procedures that the U.S. government could use to listen in on our phone calls also added to our wariness. I always assumed that the way the NSA, FBI, and CIA listened to phone conversations was through some nefarious process that involved a lot of computer code. Needless to say I was a little underwhelmed and surprised when I found that the government can simply ask the carrier or phone company for access to phones and records.

The feeling of being underwhelmed quickly dissipated when I learned the different ways that the government and law enforcement could possibly track a phone’s location. A device called a Stingray can be used in many cases, and has been used by the police since 2007. This device intercepts phone signals as if it were a cellphone tower, which in turn, can allow the police to determine the location of the signal. A less expensive way to find someone’s phone is to coordinate with the phone company and turn on the phone’s GPS remotely. The same effect can be created if the police simply infect a phone with a virus that gives them access to the GPS.

The main reason we have to fear invasions of privacy through our devices is due to viruses. Viruses can give the maker of the virus information from your device, access to your device, and/or seriously damage your device. In my own experience, I have almost always thought of viruses in terms of the latter function. Viruses are particularly effective against “internet of things” devices. “Internet of things” devices are devices that connect to the internet but are too simple to have high levels of security, such as FitBits, smart scales, smart fridges, and certain thermostats. These devices, if they are infected, are generally used to launch DNS attacks rather than spy on someone. A lack of cameras and important information reduces the use of these devices as surveillance tools. An exception to this rule would be smart TVs. Smart televisions are basically “internet of things” devices with cameras and/or microphones. This type of TV hit the limelight when Wikileaks revealed the fact that the government was considering or indeed monitoring us through our TVs.

Privacy is quickly becoming an illusion. The internet and social media are rapidly shrinking the number of things we hold as private. Finding where someone lives is remarkably easy given the various clues and keys that can be found on social media. Viruses afford people the means to watch us from a distance. In fact, what makes us fear this surveillance the most is that it is faceless. Before the internet, if someone was following you, you could catch them in the act, and then the gig was up. The truth is however, that a system that is up-to-date and has a reliable antivirus program has a low likelihood of catching a virus. Overall, surveillance without consent is violating in many ways, but such is the life we live now, and a small price to pay for safety.