Threats of digital worldThe overarching sweep of the global hacking capability developed by America’s Central Intelligence Agency, as alleged by the whistle-blowing outfit known as WikiLeaks, warrants deep reflection.
The overarching sweep of the global hacking capability developed by America’s Central Intelligence Agency, as alleged by the whistle-blowing outfit known as WikiLeaks, warrants deep reflection. The truth about if and how the agency actually applied sophisticated hacking tools hasn’t emerged but the so-called objectives of its programme are plausible. Among them are efforts to target common smart devices and machines by exploiting “zero-day” vulnerabilities (attacks on unknown flaws that leave zero days to craft a defensive patch).
Hackers around the world routinely probe the software of major companies to find a back door that permits covert entry. Media shows have showed how hackers can access all the data on a smartphone in just 60 seconds. What the WikiLeaks claims brought into focus were the range and depth of hacking efforts. Apart from breaching the operating systems of various mobile phone producers, spies look for ways to bypass the encryption of messaging and microblogging services. The cameras and microphones of personal computers and phones can be remotely activated, and smart TVs can be turned into eavesdropping devices. Such threats should spur the public and private sectors to redouble efforts to strengthen cyber security. Users can’t afford to be complacent. Daily vigilance is required rather than periodic security patches.
The WikiLeaks disclosure also put the spotlight on the risks of mass surveillance. Wired magazine reckons that 50 to 100 billion devices will be linked in the Internet of Things by 2020. At the centre of this web will be humans who would be both predator and prey. Thoughtful discussions should take place on the controls needed to curb state sponsored abuses of smart technology.