You think I can’t, but I can, if I want to. Quite easily.
Ask yourself the following question: How much information about yourself, your actions, passions, hobbies, location, preferences, friends, family and pets you put in the hands of strangers? None / Not much? Are you sure? … Very sure?
Remember that night when you got drunk with your friends? Do you remember how many bottles of beer were on that table? Do you remember all the food you ate that night? What food was that? Remember that you talked with your best friend on the phone last month for quite a long time, on that specific day? Remember you went to that event a few years back? Remember the exact day when you ate that lunch with your colleague? What color was the paint of the restaurant wall? What was that document about, the one you emailed him/her?
You don’t remember all these details? Hmm…such a shame. I remember. I remember it all…
What happens on the internet, stays on the internet. You can delete it, sure, but I will still find it. Why? Because I want to be you.
Everything you type, send, receive, upload, download it’s stored on a server. Every move you make, is documented. EVERYTHING. Every email provider, browser, application, social network, bank and mobile internet provider have at least one. Every year the number of attacks the servers receive increases considerably. Very often we see articles on the internet about leaks from the database, of a specific company. This is why internet security is a very important part of every company/institution, and they all invest a lot of money into keeping their servers safe from such attacks.
But, what if someone finds a way around it? It happened before. What if someone gets their hands on every possible information available about you? What would they find out?
Through every information you type on a website, every action you take online, every file, photo, video you upload, you make identity theft easier, for someone who would want to do it. And this is not the only risk. The other risk is empowering someone who wants to hurt you, with all the information needed to do so. You give that person exact data about your location in real time, hobbies, likes, dislikes, friends, family, pets and so on. If they want to break into your apartment, they know when you are not there, or…are there. If they want to stalk you, you give them all they need.
Highly unlikely? They can’t know all this about you?
See if any of the below information rings a bell:
1. Email provider
If you read this blog post, most likely you have at least one email address. You use it for work and to keep in touch with your friends and family. Just how much private information you include in the emails you send? Oh, you also keep a calendar on your email? What about contacts? Do you upload documents, or use Google docs to edit shared spreadsheets?
Normally, only you have access to the ones mentioned above. But, what if this changes? Who would benefit from the information you keep on your private account?
Could I use that information to get to your business partners, harm your friends, family or business? What about ruining your reputation or your relationships?
2. Google on your mobile phone?
Did you ever think it’s weird to be asked to sign in with your Google email account on your mobile phone? What can you do with an Android phone if you don’t sign in? You can pretty much only use it for calls. You can’t download applications and can’t use maps, navigators or others. Why? Who owns that phone you paid for, in the end? You can use the hardware only as long as you comply with the rules imposed by Google.
Every device you use, with a GPS incorporated, might be used both ways. You can find out your location, but so can others. People can track you down. This is the reason why some mobile applications were removed from Google Play store a while back ( best example is the app which allowed you to see where the ‘cute’ girls in your city are, in real time, directly from your mobile phone).
A new trend is to allow your phone in your life, even further. More and more phones help you keep track of your ‘health’. You basically let your phone count the number of steps you make everyday, write down every meal you eat, the sleeping schedule, the type of workout you prefer, the favorite jogging / cycling are in your city. Basically your phone knows all the time where you are in real time, when you are asleep or not, what you eat and when.
The place where most of your friends are. Even if some of you are unhappy with this company, you don’t want to delete your account because it’s the easiest way to keep in touch with your friends. You want to show them pictures and videos from your trips, exchange pages, ideas, stories. But how private it’s what you say to them, even in private? What if that information leaks?
You liked that post? And that page? So you are from that city, went to school here, worked there and you are a person who likes dogs, a convinced vegetarian, you jog every morning, you cycle in that area, and you go out in this circle of friends.
What about those advertisements which pop random on the right side of the screen or in your news feed? How do they know you might click on that? Magic, huh? Not at all. Facebook uses your browsing history, your ‘Likes’ and location to show on the screen what you’d like to see. Even more, they use the pages you visited but never ‘Liked’
You get more spam in your email inbox lately? Selling your personal information(email), isn’t unusual. How do you think some online platforms survive? You configure your profile, and make it easier for them to send your email address to the right companies, which sends back to you what you might be interested in.
You feel the need to check-in, post pictures and other information about yourself? Who owns that information you post online? Anything you post can end up in the wrong hands. Picture this: someone wants to ‘become you‘. They will make an effort to look like you, steal your personal data ( hobbies, likes, dislikes), and pretend to be you. You give them all the tools needed in that sense. They will be able to answer any question about you, after going through your private messages, pages, groups, apps, interests, friends and pictures. Remember those security questions your answered a while back? (‘What’s your mothers maiden name?’). Easy information.
4. Phone Company
You text, you delete the text from your phone, and it’s gone? You call, hang up, and no recording of your conversation will be kept? Are you that sure? Didn’t it ever happen to hear a broken recording tape sound when talking on your phone? Neither hearing other voices during your phone call?
They phone companies can record and store all your conversations and texts. They do store all your voicemails and, by law, they have to store the ‘meta data’.
More than this, they know where you travel. How? When you move from one point to another in the country or abroad, your are switched from one cell to another. This is not only a way to find out where YOU are, but also to find out WHO ELSE you travel with.
5. Your Bank
Did you ever got a phone call from a guy talking very fast: “Hello, I am a broker and I want to talk to you about this investment … ” ? Where did he got your phone number from? How does he know you’ve received a transfer and you posses cash in your account? Only your bank has access to that information, right? Or, do they?
Have you ever watched missing persons documentaries? Someone interested in this, can find out exactly how much you’ve spent, where you’ve been and when, by looking at your bank statements, since the beginning of the bank account to the present day. If someone is really interested in ‘meeting’ you, they can notice a certain pattern in your spending ( e.g. shopping for food every Saturday morning, at X Supermarket) and also keep track of what you buy! At some point Target congratulated a teen-age lady on her pregnancy, before her parents knew about it. Impossible? It happens all the time.
Now, with the internet banking becoming more and more popular, the risk of your banking information ending in someone else’s hands, it’s even higher.
If I want to become you, I can read all your emails, know your history, your work, your thoughts and I can use all that information to harm you. I can persuade you or people, to give me access to your bank statements, phone records, texts, conversations, by creating and using an invented scenario that increases the chance to divulge information or perform actions that give me access to what I want to know.
If you don’t give me the information, I can simply take it away from you. I can just burn a CD, containing a malware, write on it “Executive Salary Summary – year X”, and leave it at your work place, somewhere where I know you find it. You wouldn’t resist the temptation to check it out, right? The malware would be unknowingly installed by you, likely giving me unfettered access to your PC and information.
With the right skills, your personal data might end up on the wrong hands. Even if every company mentioned above state they are careful with your data, most of them are, but in the same time, some might make you think they are careful, and sale your information to whom might benefit them.
I believe the scenarios mentioned above aren’t far away from reality, but they are the actual reality.
We trust our computers and phones with a lot of personal information, which can be used in our detriment in case they end up in the hands of other people. As long as the companies you trusted your personal data with are safe or ‘good guys’, you are safe. But what if they stop being good guys, who owns the information you post online? What if they get hacked? What if you give away the access by mistake? Ask yourself, what could they find out about you, if all of the above would be revealed? Would you still be safe?
You still believe I can’t become YOU?