Today saw me running a session on computer security and privacy issues for trainees on the World Horizons Equipping for Service course. (In other words, yes, I probably am a bit geeky…) Identity theft and maintaining individual privacy online has become a big issue.
Now my main concern in doing this is to help people protect their identity and personal information. Privacy is a right which is not always taken seriously by governments – and I am not just talking of the Irans and North Koreas of this world. Unless we actually want to make all our private communications and data available to whoever happens to want to look then we do need to take some simple steps to protect ourselves. Not that any of these are 100% uncrackable – but like any security, in the end it is about putting enough safeguards in place to make it difficult for an attacker to find a way in. It’s just like putting a better lock on your front door; hey yes, with a big enough sledgehammer they will still get in. But if they don’t have enough time or resources, or they don’t consider your stuff is worth the effort, they will go and look somewhere else.
There’s more to this than not clicking on “suspicious” links and “being careful”. Few people really understand the inner workings of computer code and the security issues that there are. Computing has become like modern cars – you used to be able to take a look at an engine and find bits to unscrew, replace or mend yourself, but nowadays, it is all in sealed plastic units, with no “user serviceable parts” to be seen. Likewise computing – in the early days, you could roughly see how a program worked, understand the basics of code behind what the operating system was doing. Not today. Though estimates vary (and are at best only estimates), there are around 80 million lines of code in Windows 7. So security issues are actually complex beasts and users do in fact need to know a little more than they might be comfortable with to make sure they are safe. The ruthless have always preyed on the naïve or ignorant and probably always will.
You see, there are always the “bad guys” out there who want to get their hands on your stuff. We live in a real world where thieves do break in and steal, only today they can do it from the comfort of their own homes on the opposite side of the planet. Password hacking is no longer the remit of “script kiddies”; cyber crime has become big business. Dedicated mafia groups pour huge resources into the creation of ever expanding bot-nets and ever more effective tools for phishing scams, all with the aim of gleaning personal information, stealing intellectual property, gaining access to financial assets and scamming their way to millionairedom.
But we knew that already. There really is nothing new under the sun. That our seemingly boundless human creativity – no doubt part of the image of God in humanity – can be turned to evil as easily as it can to good should come as no surprise. Innovation works on both sides, from those who follow the late Steve Jobs’ axiom in wanting to “change the world” (for the better) through technology to those who are happy to invest their lives discovering how to relieve others of the burden of their wealth.
So do take all reasonable precautions. Educate yourself. Lock down your cyberlife in such a way that makes it difficult at least for others to steal from you. But at the same time be sure to heed Jesus’ advice – don’t make this your treasure. Don’t lock your heart in encrypted secure storage with a password that keeps even the Holy Spirit out. We are bigger than that. We are called to love a broken world, including the scammers, to make the healing of the nations in the name of a self-giving God our treasure. No criminal, cyber or other, can ever take that from you.
Oh. And if Password1 is one of your favourite passwords, do me a favour and change it…
Image credits: pbs.org, splashdata.org