During the last 30 years, technology had been a big catalyst in changing our lives in many good ways. Now we have many new products, tools and software applications that are part of our daily lives. Technologies like internet and its various wireless forms like 2G, 3G & 4G have really shortened the world by decreasing the communication gap and cost. I remember in 1997 when we used to call home (India) from USA, it used to cost us around $2 per minute and that cost had literally come down to pennies in the last few years. Today many software applications e.g. Facebook, Google, many email services and endless mobile applications to call, SMS and chat are offered free. There may not be any cost attached when we use these tools but there are many security threats attached to them which many of us are not aware of and because of that lack of knowledge we suffer.
Since I have been in the software development business for the last 20 years, I can easily make these two statements: as soon as you are connected to the internet using any device whether it’s your desktop, tablet or mobile, you are not safe and second, any application, online or software residing on your PC, tablet or mobile device can potentially expose you to hackers. If there is an extremely intelligent developer/company who claims that their application is completely secure then there is also an extremely smart hacker sitting somewhere to crack that code to misuse it. Most of these cyber-attacks are done intentionally to harm innocent users using internet and World Wide Web. People who named WWW probably had good intentions but literally did not think that “Web” still means: “A network of fine threads constructed by a spider from fluid secreted by its spinnerets, used to catch its prey.” Hackers are spiders and we are their prey.
Using Security Cameras at home: This particular instance had provoked me to write this blog and is a good example of how important it is to really to understand what you are getting into. Few months back, we got security cameras installed in our home. When the installation was about to complete, the installer asked me if I would like to track activity remotely through the web. I had a big smile and my answer was yes because it would be an advantage when we go on vacation, then we could have tracked any activity inside our home, backyard, front gates etc. on the iPhone. But while the guy was setting it up he had asked me to connect the DVR with my local internet and also asked for user id and password. When I asked him why he would need all that information, he had no answer. But, I was still watching him closely and this was what I found. He literally used my user id and password and opened one of the ports which could directly communicate through the servers in Hong Kong and through internet, stream all video activity to that server which further gets downloaded to the iPhone/Mobile app. I don’t think anyone even imagines what these security vendors are doing, but literally any day if hackers hack the server, millions of those users are exposed.
Now there are Wi-Fi security cameras available which are even more insecure. As long as you are securing the place with security cameras and recording the activity, it’s fine. But, as soon as you integrate your IPhone, you would potentially be exposing entire activity to the hackers.
Configuring and using Wi-Fi : Wi-Fi is another technology that everyone is going after. Initially it was meant to connect laptops, desktops, printers and tablets through internet but now the same is being used to control household devices, like switching on the lights, controlling TVs and refrigerators. Many folks by themselves or by installers rush through the job to get their Internet connectivity working as quickly as possible. That’s totally understandable but if the Internet is not configured properly it can cause numerous security problems. Why is security so important and what could possibly go wrong? Here is the list:
Once your Wi-Fi is hacked, hackers can use your account to download/upload movies or any media.
They can surf sites which you may not usually go to.
In some cases they can access your hard disk and that means they can access all your files.
There are many utilities easily available which can hack your Wi-Fi. It’s easy for hackers to look for all open and unsecured Wi-Fi networks and use them. So why take that risk, at least follow these steps to secure yourself:
Change the name of your SSID and do not make it very attractive and obvious e.g. GAUTAM HOME.
Always use a password or key to connect.
Do not keep password as simple as “1234” or “password”.
Choose encryption type to WEP, if you have other choices available like WPA or WPA2 then it’s better to choose the latter.
Free Emails/SMS/Chat and social networking sites: Nothing is free in this world, anything that you get for no money, means you are definitely compromising something else. When was the last time that you completely read the agreement or terms and conditions when you signed up for the social networking site or signed up for free email service, I guess never. No one has time to go through those agreements. Recently, we were developing a website and we thought that we should have terms and condition on our website equivalent to what Facebook has. Therefore when our team reviewed the Facebook agreement, it was an eye opener and shame to see how we all have really agreed to those terms. On top of it Facebook is still not safe from hackers; every now and then they have a major security lapse. When you search on Google, Google generally tracks what you are searching for and start pushing their advertisements accordingly. I am sure everyone knows that NSA had been tracking all email services and all SMS, now that is for good cause but what if there is a hacker who is as smart as someone sitting in NSA and crack and hack all this information. Recently Snapchat was hacked and 4.5 million users had been exposed. Target and few other major retailers in USA had been hit hard by hackers.
Should you stop using these tools? I say “No”. But you should evaluate the risks of signing up for these services and understand how these new tools or devices are exposing us to the world of hackers. I used to have many friends who would not join any social network site; they would not create a Facebook account for their kids because kids could get spoiled. I had a different point of view, for how long we would be able to control our kids, few years, what happens when they go out of our hands; they would do whatever they would like to do. So why not adapt these things and teach them how to use them, what to do and what not do and also make them aware of these security issues.
Broader idea here is, be aware of these new tools and devices, how they work and what you got to do to secure yourself, because sooner or later you will have to adapt them.