Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tech and the Big Conundrum

Most people in the United States have been victims of identity theft and very few even know it. What people are even less aware of is that the problem is an unintended consequence of the very people who are supposed to protect us. And, even more infuriating is that many other countries, such as Germany and France, aren’t suffering.

When your identity is stolen, you are, in effect, cloned, and your evil twin can ruin your credit, steal your house and your bank account, get you hunted by the IRS and Homeland Security, and… even worse. Recovery from identity theft is impossible and the problems will follow you well past your death. Your family will inherit the problems you suffered.

So then, how is identity theft a problem started by the United States government? Remember the NSA? Well, they aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box, and even worse, they think they are. When they decreed that no encryption technology on your computer and cell phone could be strong enough to keep your data from being viewed by them, it also meant that any hacker on Earth can know all about you. When the NSA makes a mistake or can’t do their peeping Tom on your devices, they still earn a salary and live to start another day. But hackers only eat when they’re successful. Since they’re better motivated than any intelligence service hacker, they either succeed or they starve. Survival of the fittest. And, they’re as smart or smarter than any NSA hackers are.

Technology has become ever-more-complex at an accelerating rate. The mantra, “Be the first to make your product obsolete, or your competition will make you obsolete,” is something I hear every day in Silicon Valley. Testing cycles used to be a full year. Now, they are shorter than a week, and in most cases the develop-and-test-before-release cycles for tech companies have become shortened so much that most testing is now done by consumers after the software is being sold. The bugs hackers can exploit are called “zero-day” flaws, and every piece of software you buy to make your life easier has a multitude of them. The “zero-day” flaws make the hacker’s life a blissful dream.

What can be done? Sadly, as long as the NSA keeps data encryption non-existent, not much. We could pressure the President to get real about the problem, but from what I’ve seen, he’ll never agree. We could stop using tech, but that won’t help, because banks, doctors and other essential  corporations we depend on are victims of the tech thefts. Even if you never use a cell phone or a computer, you’ve still probably got a dozen or so religious fundamentalists in third-world countries walking around with a passport that has you name on it. Making security air tight won’t happen unless we change the way we behave. Won’t happen ever.

Unwinding the roots of this problem won’t happen. Curing it is impossible. Tech will continue to get more complex. Politicians will remain ignorant of the problem even when confronted by it.
Welcome to your worst nightmare.

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