Can you tame the unknown?
This essay is from a part of a chapter from my upcoming book “Stealing Innovation” which is yet to be published and does not completely represent the book contents.
Someone I do not remember said something that I still remember in fragments, and I believe I remember it exactly as it was meant. I do not consider it important on who said it, because the lesson it brings it fundamentally inspirational to change someone’s attitude to one’s life that the creator of the definition does not matter at all. He said,
There are two ways to live life. You can choose only one.
One way is to live with an attitude, that everything that happens in the world is normal, deducted from the basic realistic philosophy of life and chances, that whatever can happen will happen and nobody can prevent it.
The other way to live is with an attitude that takes everything around us in the world is as a miracle of some kind. It helps you to stay younger and keep learning.
Let’s proceed with the latter definition, everything around us is a miracle. You reading this essay is a miracle, because I do not know who you are and where you are from, although the server hosting this webpage can figure out your location as soon as you open this page, because it logs your Internet Protocol (IP Address) and lets us know where our readers come from. Check this out to find out your IP Address 😉
My Location is shown by a website, as soon as I visited a website. Notice other details. I have hidden the IP Address and Proxy although it is quite easy to find someone’s location, all you have to do is give them a link for a website to visit and you have a rough idea about their location 😉
Apart from that, I could potentially find out where you read my essay from, I could also find what browsers you used to read my content, or were you using a handheld device or a computer screen, and there are lots of trackers to track your anonymous data to know about your location and preferences. It is a miracle because now you can write according to what your current audience is, and that would likely grow in number. For example, if you love Harry Potter series, and if I found out it somehow, I could potentially send someone to your home to sell you some Harry Potter Merchandise and the chances that you are likely to buy them, than me selling those to someone of who I do not know anything about. This information of preferences are sold by big companies that you and I are pretty aware of, and this information is money. This is a miracle too, never had been people able to sell such information of preferences in the history of mankind at such a scale, at such a speed. This raises privacy issues only when non-anonymous personal data are shared. For example, if the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of my city tracks all the Google searches in the city and finds that people are searching for “buy a used iPhone”, it is now a valuable information to an e-commerce business to target advertisements to the pool of all IP addresses that browse any websites that have signed up for Google Ad-sense or some other advertising platforms. The resulting effect? you have probably noticed that when you search for a particular brand of shoes in Google, the next time you visit you-tube or another Google-hired advertising spaces, you get to see an advertisement to your previous searches! It is a miracle! The big techies have now made a good ecosystem to track people and to feed them something that is automatically generated by algorithms that are smart enough to figure out what might interest you more. Today, we are so intertwined in communication technology that even if I could not find who reads my writing, the intermediate technology knows it all, like Facebook knows it exactly how many times you stalked over your Ex’s profile but you tend to believe nobody knows you did it. On the other hand, if I were a dating platform, I would buy some advertising schemes to get you in my platform by showing you “relevant” advertisements in your Facebook profile because somehow somewhere I know that Facebook knows how to target advertisements efficiently. There’s a catch! Although Facebook or other platforms do not do it manually, it does not save them from the argument, the argument is, the algorithms are designed such they do the manual work efficiently. If you blame Algorithms, you know who you are blaming.
The notion of securing your belongings come a long way. Quite some centuries ago, all you could feel about security was by securing the things you could actually carry, or take care of your belongings in your territory and protect it from other humans, and animals. Times have changed and it is 2019. Today, your belongings, like your home, or land, is represented by some writing on a paper, even better on a digital device or in the Web which you could access and use it as your proof of ownership. Such is the time, is it not a miracle? You can now represent almost every ownership digitally, such is the new norm. Bad actors are happy that the rewards are getting higher along with increased sophistication in technology. I chased a thief once in my village, in the dark, through the rice fields, but we lost him. It was a very hard age for thief some decades ago, they would need to break into houses and banks personally, carrying weapons like guns or knives, and even hurting innocent people. Now the time is different, thieves do not carry guns anymore, they carry laptops and their weapons are sold online, transferred online, used online, and can cause potentially more damage to an institution than a single person could physically incur. In 2018, it was found that hackers stole a total of $1.7 billion of which major part was from cryptocurrency exchanges. What is a blockchain and a cryptocurrency? Get my FREE E-Book and other goodies from here. It seems that digital thieves of our age can bring a lot of damage to the world, there is no reason not to concur.
As a matter of fact, the stolen money is the least of worries to institutions that protect things which are more than money, something like a social security number, or an undisclosed technology that is still under-test and experimentation, or something like blueprints for nuclear projects. These assets are way more important to protect than something fungible like money. Money is fungible, identity is not. Identity is unique, and is the matter of privacy because unless otherwise absolutely necessary, identities of people should remain private as much as it can, and nobody has right to make a business of selling identities, that would violate every moral notion because, in older times, it would be equivalent to treason, it is equivalent to deception and cheating. Of course, some information needs to get out of a system to the world if the system is behaving in a way that is not constructive to the world but to the system alone. You probably know how deep the rabbit hole goes from Edward Snowden’s revelations.
I come from the 80s, born in the last year of the decade, but that makes me someone who started off with computers as old as Windows 95, and then used every version of it until 2016, and then quit Windows ecosystem in 2017 and fully upgraded myself to Linux machine. What a relief it has brought to my laptop as it has only around 120G of Hard Drive space, that’s quite a lot for me as a Linux User. I have missed everything that Linux had to offer, why? I think it was a cultural norm to use Windows because it gives you all the graphical interfaces and an eye-soothing experience to beginners, all you need to do is drag and drop! Speaking of Windows Systems, the operating system is full of flies and bugs, like you would find on a rotten flesh of a dead dog, it’s creepy to imagine it, but it is the truth, no operating system in the world is as buggy as Microsoft Windows, made for bugs? Well, we don’t know for sure. It is important to know which systems are relatively more secure because your business and your personal data can benefit from it, by avoiding unfathomable losses. Of course, not even Linux systems are hack-proof, or the Macintosh, every operating system out there in the world is flawed in one way or another, and there seems to be no clue, enter encryption!
Could you read the above word? (except for anyone who can figure out what script is it)
The script is Russian! and it says ENCRYPTION.
Enter the world of encryption. The reason behind mentioning such an example is to give you a little idea of encryption. Something that you cannot figure out reading it is called encrypted, well not absolutely correct, but it gets the point through. In computing, encryption means, your data, be it in the form of an image or a text, or symbols, etc are mathematically scrambled in such a way that only you can recover the data from the scrambled-egg-like-data. To recover encrypted data, you use something called a private key, which is a string of alphanumeric characters like 1acdef7390379abde868df829810. This is used to decrypt your scrambled messages to its original form. For example, if you wanted to share a confidential written message to your friend through E-mail, be assured that your E-mail provider will scan through your messages, and you can’t be any sure if someone already read your message on the fly. You need to encrypt your E-mails. Want to learn how to make use of such encryption in your next E-mail? I can help, connect me on Telegram on the handle, satishluintel and I can guide you how to do it. In many cases, such a communication is not necessary I believe, unless you trust nobody but yourself or the code. My point is, nothing is secure unless your data is encrypted end-to-end. You may use Telegram to chat with your friends on a ‘secret chat’ mode to ensure that your data is encrypted and only you and your friends can see it. There is also an option to delete the message for all participants in the chat. At least you do not have to rely on Whatsapp or Skype these days for communication which is a big relief because Whatsapp is now Facebook and Skype is Microsoft. Now you know how you can communicate securely, use end-to-end encryption enabled applications or build your own. Need some help building a custom application for you and your family only to have a secret chat? You’ll find many developers who are willing to build it for you. I prefer Telegram over any app for communication.
Keeping your data secure on a hard drive, or your flashy shiny little pen-drive or flash-drive can be pretty challenging. Like I mentioned before, the only way to secure the data is to encrypt them with a strong encryption algorithms. We will come to this in detail later in our upcoming essays. There are software tools available to encrypt your hard disk, but do select them carefully as they can themselves be a bug, yes it happens! Remember, everything around us is a miracle and this is a nightmare when your own guards stab you on your back.
So you have known how to communicate safely, and how to store your data safely on your computer or an external hard-drive or the flash drive. Have you ever formatted those and thought you were now safer? I thought so a decade ago until I found out online that one could recover your drive even if you formatted it. The only way to delete everything is to overwrite every memory location in your hard-drive. I believe in destroying the hard-drive by mechanical force or by fire if I were to destroy very sensitive information, like a blueprint for a nuclear power plant, or a very secret confidential mission or information that needs to be protected with a grave responsibility. Integrity is very important when you choose to guard someone else’s data and you should execute it perfectly.
So here are the basics practical steps you could implement in your office and business to make sure that your private information does not get exposed to the public.
- Communicate with your employees through platforms that support End-to-End encryption, like Telegram. Never use public E-mail providers for confidential information.
- If you ever had to communicate through public E-mail, send your information encrypted.
- Use Telegram to send large files, it supports files up to 1.5GB as of today at as a single file.
- Do not store your super-sensitive information on the cloud.
- Make sure your systems are updated and hire someone to look after vulnerabilities and research on new flaws and mitigation measures in your platform on a regular basis.
- Never store valuable sensitive information on a very old hard drive. Use a fresh hard-drive, and store the information encrypted. Store the keys on a secure locker.
These steps are pretty basic, and there is a lot to be done. In case you need to consult an expert, you might want to go through Linkedin and search cybersecurity professionals and connect with them.
The world today is connected through technology, and a small event can get the attention of a large audience, this is the potential of internet and technology that people are now able to make a voice, and governments have to adapt to new technologies because after all, we come online to meet people. We do not come online to meet the automated bots and e-mails, we come online to interact with real people, for a cause. However, there are also walls in the world of Web. The walls are of different types.
A firewall is a hardware or a software device that is based on rules on who to allow to interact with your network. That ‘who’ is defined by the IP Address of the person sending requests. The Great Fire-Wall of China blocks a lot of inbound traffic to China. A firewall is usually deployed to protect your network from outside attacks.
- Walls of Forms and E-mail Addresses
This is not any hardware device. I learned about it from a friend recently. He wanted to connect to Mobile Phone OEM companies, and most of the websites had this “Contact Us” form, but no phone-number ( not very useful for someone who can’t immediately decide to afford that long-distance call or not) that is linked to popular apps like Telegram, or Whatsapp or Skype. Chinese manufacturers have WeChat for example, but it is not so common outside China. As a matter of fact, it seems companies and consultants are staying behind Fill-up forms and that creates a wall against smooth communication. To communicate easily with prospective clients, there are now services like chat-widget that help businesses to add a chat interface on their website and people from the outside world could find a real-time way to interact. There are good enough apps like Telegram, Signal for one to one communication. Open-source secure platforms like jitsi.org that does not even require a log-in for direct video communication, rather than using Skype. Why are people not using them? Are businesses missing out on what’s available out there? It seems so. Using E-mail addresses to communicate is also not bad, it is rather slow and methodical for the first contact.
Quite often, innovation comes as the by-product of some research, or as a result of some unexpected events. No innovation comes linearly, as linearly deducted have much more chances of failing than random experiments. There have been some radical random experiments that have changed the world, you can check it in the book by Andrew Leigh, “Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World.” In the field of cybersecurity research, such events often happen by accident or as a side-effect of rigorous research on something else that you happen to stumble across some unusual events which draw your attention and you find something totally different than you were looking for. A simple example can be the buffer overflows in operating systems or your programs when you accidentally happen to write a certain memory location which was not meant to be, and that writing overwrites the previous data, hence rendering quite unexpected behavior to the system, sometimes causing damages worth millions, don’t believe me? Here it is. It is hard to tame the unknown variables of our environment, we do not know them completely, hence we can not expect anything from them. The same goes with technology, mostly we do not know how something would behave before we actually put it to a test and run it! This is probably because of our technology, and the products we build are the outcome of the models that do not fit perfectly into natural laws. Although we get to make use a lot of these models to fit our needs in reality, they are after all models that are trying to represent the reality, and we should always keep our eyes open to all possibilities of their behavior, and not get overwhelmed when something turns to be completely different than we expected. We can not tame the unknowns.
Want to add anything? Feel free to connect. Telegram -> satishluintel