I think digital security is very important because digital space and computational tools, and devices, and the internet, are a part of our everyday life today. And there’s a huge need today also for different forms of global solidarity and alliances.
And living also in an economy that’s greatly centered around information, it’s very important to understand this environment that we use for work and communication. I would say that one of the ways to communicate the importance of digital security to those who are not concerned is to share stories about people who have faced any of these threats, and then they can see how important and how common it is.
Digital and online security is important because when it’s there, it gives us a sense of security and confidence to do what we do. We move day to day and survive day to day online, we never know when the attacks are going to come and unfortunately also we don’t have an organized mechanism in this country where we can be able to protect.
We are at a huge risk because the people we fight are the people with resources and have the know-how to make our digital life quite difficult.
Thinking about digital security in terms of human rights helps us to understand how digital security affects and concerns us all. It shows how digital security is a collective human concern.
Unfortunately, there are some popular misunderstandings when it comes to digital security. For example, people often feel ready to accept restrictions to their right to privacy, with the belief that it will allow the government to better protect national security. Many also assume that digital security is only needed by those acting unethically.
Some people assume that a person who defends their online privacy and freedoms likely engages in sneaky or suspicious behaviour. Others fear that if they practice digital security, other people will make the same assumption about them. Either way, people with this view dismiss the protection that human rights provide to all of us.
One piece of advice that I would give to those who want to increase their digital security; learn more about the most common threats, and know how to avoid them. For me, as an individual, I took opportunities that were available to train me on how to keep myself safe online, which is not, unfortunately, available for everybody.
But, I am also trying best I can to use my online spaces to educate people on the need to be safe online. Keeping people aware, telling them it is important to take note. It is important for you to be actively involved in protecting yourself; this is the least I can do, really.
Personally, in my own track and knowledge, I discovered that issues related to the omnipresence of monitoring and knowledge are, in a way, greatly normalized by an absence of knowledge. I, in a way, realized how much there is a huge difference and divide between between what we think and what we imagine we are doing in computational media.
Really think of digital security as a habit, as a practice rather than a step to be done and then achieved. Because computational media and software is always moving forward so that’s why we always also need to update, and develop our tools in respect to also new developments within different forms of intelligence. The way we, for instance, take care of cleaning our houses on a daily, and weekly basis, we really need to think of it this way, of our own practices in relationship to digital security.
I would say that one of the most common security threats that many people face online is phishing which refers to fake emails that look exactly like those sent from legitimate companies, and therefore we end up giving them all of our personal and financial information without realizing the threat.
Another common security threat that we face online is organized trolling and hacking of our accounts. Whatever we are working on, we usually use our personal accounts, and they tend to be hacked to get us offline. We have organized trolling also where they actually have a team of people sitting down and coming up with a campaign against you that is usually very, very personal especially if you’re a female, where they’ll attack you, your anatomy. It stops being about the issues you’re discussing, shifting to about you, your womanhood, your family life and they have all the data and statistics that they want on you to make their campaign successful. One of the most common security threats that people face online is a general lack of knowledge around how online media works. So before going into a particular threat, I would say that the biggest threat is a kind of alienated relationship that we feel as users in relation to online media.
Mass surveillance affects everybody. The person who thinks they have nothing to hide, so they don’t need digital security or to care about it, are actually misinformed. So when you sit behind your keyboard and think you’re safe because you’re not being political. Whatever it is that you do online, it’s used by advertisers, it’s used by politicians, it can be used for anything. All the information you put out there is available to anybody who has a way of reaching it, so it is an illusion to think that one is safe because they’re being “safe” with the topics they deal with online.
Honestly, I cannot think of a daily activity where mass surveillance is not present today somehow. For me, my first step towards confronting mass surveillance is realizing how much a long term practice it takes. I think there is a great need of changing the attitude towards mass surveillance; thinking of how much it is something that is made possible or normalized through a collective consent.
I would say that one of the main ways to change public attitude and to take action against mass surveillance is to learn more about it, and share the message of how unconcerned people are about it. In my opinion, the first step towards thinking of mass surveillance as a public concern is to know what’s happening with our data when we’re using different platforms and to demand certain standards of encryption within our online communication that cannot be exploited.
Before the internet, if someone wanted to know your birthday, workplace or marital status, they would have to ask you or someone else, or know where that information is physically stored. If someone wanted to monitor your communications, they would have to tap your phone or open your mail. If someone wanted to take your money, they would have to steal your wallet.
Now all this and much more is accessible online. Social media, email and online banking are useful modern conveniences. Unfortunately, they also expose us to new threats. By default, today’s internet is organised in a way that demands more and more information about us, all at the cost of our privacy.
Companies collect your information so they can sell you personalised ads. Governments conduct surveillance so they can monitor the activities of whole populations. Cybercriminals seek private information so they can rob or extort you. Sometimes we consent to this information collection without really thinking through what it means; other times we don’t consent at all.
Everyone can protect their privacy online, but this does not happen by itself. We need to practice digital security to ensure that our privacy is protected. There is a great misunderstanding that online privacy is all about concealing nefarious activity. All too commonly, people allege that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’.
But as Edward Snowden has claimed: “Privacy isn’t about something to hide. Privacy is about something to protect. And that thing is a free and open society, that thing is who you are, that thing is your true beliefs.” The invasion of privacy can be a human rights violation itself. But it can also undermine other rights.
Human rights are interdependent: When one right is upheld, other rights are strengthened, and when one right is violated, other rights are weakened. Not having access to one right can result in not having access to another. So an attack on the right to privacy is an attack on all human rights.
Most online communities and social media platforms offer you the option to choose with whom you share your communications. Restricting access will reduce the chances that your contents are visible publicly. Note that people you share your photos, thoughts, jokes and frustrations with can take screenshots and post them in a public place. Your public shares can also be sources for attackers to guess your security question when they are trying to get access to your account.
This is how sharing a picture of your pet with a name, for example, can become a security threat to your account. Regularly changing your password and using different passwords across services you use will decrease the chances that your data ends up in the wrong hands. Setting up two-factor or multi-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security.
Encryption is one of the most effective means we have for protecting our data, securing our communications and claiming our right to privacy online. It is a mechanism for ensuring that our private data is only available to ourselves - just like a having a lock on the door to our home. It also ensures that our communications are read only by our chosen recipients - just like we expect that a letter sent by post is only read by its recipient.
Shabir Ahmad is a UPSC aspirant/emerging writer from Raiyar Doodhpathri.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.