More and more, every facet of our lives is integrated with the online space, intertwining our real and digital lives together into a single entity. Whether we are messaging our family and friends, checking our banking details, posting photos of our dogs or just watching a show, almost everything we do involves us using the internet. With this, a lot of our personal information is stored in the services that we use. Our personal particulars like our addresses or our banking details, our habits and likes, what we enjoy and what we don’t, all of it is stored online on the servers of the services that we use. Some people shrug when you tell them that this data can be compromised, as they feel like it won’t adversely affect them, but they fail to see just how much of their data is online and how it can affect them.
Cybersecurity aims to protect you and your data from falling into the hands of those who wish to use that information for other purposes. Preventing credit card fraud, ensuring that your private details aren’t sold to data aggregation companies, and making sure your data that you don’t want others to see are all things that cybersecurity does. No longer are passive defences like firewalls and antivirus software enough to ensure that you remain safe online — cybersecurity is a necessity.
Why is cybersecurity so important to all of us?
Cybersecurity, as mentioned previously, aims to protect all our information by taking an active response to cyber threats. Malicious actors are always trying to gain access to private details and information, as these can then be sold to people who want to use that information to either impersonate you or to use your information to sell to companies. The data could be anything, from government information to company secrets, personal information stored on government and business servers, intellectual property or even your health information.
Many of our fundamental institutions and utilities rely on information being kept private and secure. Our banks have to make sure that our details are protected to prevent fraud and theft, hospitals need to protect our information that could cause harm to their patients, and even power companies need to keep their infrastructure layouts private to prevent hijacks. At a fundamental level, we need cybersecurity to keep these essential services protected so that society can continue to function.
For the average person, keeping your data safe means preventing yourself from being a victim of impersonation and extortion, which can be life-changing and even traumatising for anyone to go through. Ensuring that all our data is kept safe means that we can continue to use our essential services online, like banking or healthcare or entertainment even, as conveniently as we have gotten used to without being exposed to danger.
Your right to digital privacy
Our privacy is a protected institution and a pillar of our understanding of human rights and is to be protected by law. We should expect that our online information isn’t accessible to anyone except those to whom we grant explicit permission, not even the government. The fundamental rights to self-expression, freedom of communication and being able to look up anything online are essential to the runnings of the internet. However, many of us are still unaware of how our data is being collected without our express permission, which is used and shared across services and companies in order to more effectively sell us items and services. This jeopardises the safety of our information. Though government agencies have stepped in to tighten data security requirements for companies and initiatives have been made to raise awareness about your data privacy, many are still unaware of the severity of the situation.
How social media is the biggest culprit
Social media is the part of the internet that many of us spend most of our time online on, and is often where we put a lot of our information. This is because of how social media is designed; incentivising you to upload as much information as possible with as little warning of how dangerous it could potentially be.
Several studies have been conducted by academics and they have found that they were able to accurately predict your character and personality based purely on the interactions your posts had with other people. They could also predict whether you were suffering from depression or had drug issues based on your public online activity.
Additionally, social media sites often use the vast amount of information that they collect from their users and sell it to other companies who are looking for trends or patterns across demographics, or even for you specifically. This means that companies will use your private information to generate ads or products that will appeal to you more and incentivise you to buy them, all without you knowing.
How to protect your individual private data
The onus is on you to protect your personal and private data, as there is little that can be done by laws and governments to enforce stricter privacy protections online. Every aspect of you can be used by someone to target you, either to sell you something or to impersonate you, even your age or where you’ve been recently. This information is valuable to companies and malicious actors, as they are able to generate a profile of you to use for their own needs.
Be careful about what information you not only give to companies but also what information you allow companies to have access to. A lot of the time you will explicitly have to give permission for apps and services to use information like your location and contacts, and even your photos, even if the app has no reason to have access to it. By being diligent with who you share your information and doing your research on what they use it for, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones.
Cybersecurity is vital to you as a concept as it teaches you to be diligent with how you treat your information and data. With how advanced things are, the only safest way to prevent our data from being used for nefarious purposes or without our permission is to keep the information we share online to a minimum. Though it can feel inconvenient to check all these things and to remain vigilant online, it is definitely far preferable to getting your banking details stolen!