Technology is neutral and non-moral. It’s the implementers and users who define its use. In Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It, author Marc Goodman spends nearly 400 pages describing the dark side of technology, and those who use it for nefarious purposes. He provides a fascinating overview of how every major technology can be used to benefit society, and how it can also be exploited by those on the other side.
Technology breeds crime and in the book, Goodman users Crime, Inc. as a metaphor for the many entities and organizations that exist in the dark web and fringes of the Internet. Towards the end of the book, after describing all of the evils that the Internet creates, he suggests creation of a modern day Manhattan Project for cyber security. He writes that a major initiative such as that is what is required to secure the Internet and emerging technologies.
As to Crime, Inc., Goodman shows how they use technologies such as distributed computing, satellite communications, crowdsourcing, encrypted channels and other sophisticated mechanisms to carry out their actions. The premise of the book, and it’s a compelling one, is that in the rush to wire every classroom, person and organization, we have failed to secure it appropriately.
The books 18 chapters are an easy and quite fascinating read. Goodman writes in detail about many major technologies trends and how its benefits can be subverted. The book is written for the non-technical reader and Goodman does an admirable job of minimize tech-talk and gibberish.
While the book obsesses on the dark side, it’s important to note that Goodman is not an anti-technologist. The goal of the book is to make people aware of what they are clicking on, and how they often give away their personal life when using free mobile applications.
Chapter 6 on the surveillance economy is particularly interesting. While Snowden brought attention to the NSA’s wholesale spying, what has gone under the radar is the lucrative surveillance economy that has developed. Goodman writes how firms like Acxion, Epsilon and others are part of the over $150 billion data brokerage industry. Their power is that they correlate information from myriad disparate sources, to create a powerful dossier that marketers are willing to pay for.
The chapter articulately details the unprecedented amounts of data people have shared with third-parties; that once shared, is almost impossible to control. The privacy implications are huge and the problem is only getting worse. Data brokers have no privacy incentives as they make money when they sell data, not when they protect it.
The book is a fascinating read, albeit a bit wordy at times. The book contains so many horror stories and examples of software and hardware gone badly, that the reader can be overwhelmed. Goodman on occasion makes some errors, such as when he writes that a six-terabyte hard drive could hold all of the music ever recorded anywhere in the world throughout history. At times, he overemphasizes things, such as when he writes that one billion users have posted their most intimate details on Facebook. While Facebook recently passed the 1 billion user mark, not every user posts intimate details of their live.
The book provides a superb overview of the security implications of the Internet of Things (IoT). Goodman details how the IoT can be used to create intelligent systems and networks that can detect and shutdown adversaries. But to secure the IoT will require an effort akin to the Manhattan Project. With that, Goodman advocates that the government fund a digital Manhattan Project, getting the best and brightest minds in the information security space together, to create a framework to better secure the Internet.
The problem is as he notes, that Washington simply does not see the need nor can they comprehend the urgency of the situation. It’s only the government that can ostensibly get the private and public sectors together to work in concert, but that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Which only serves to exacerbate an already tenuous information security problem.
An additional issue the book grapples with, it that the while government wants its citizens to be secure and touts the importance of personal privacy, it simultaneously spies on them. Also, providers such as Google and Facebook provide free services, at the cost of turning the user into a data customer. It’s not just the criminals and terrorists the book warns about, rather government and free data collection services.
While the book paints an overly depressing picture of what the future holds for personal privacy, Goodman closes the book with his UPDATE protocol. He writes that while the worst is yet to come and that it’s getting more and more difficult to gain control you’re your personal data and metadata; there are six steps you can do. Goodman claims that these 6 steps can prevent 85% of digital attacks. The UPDATE steps are: Update frequently, Passwords, Download from safe sites only, Administrator accounts used with care, Turn off computers and Encrypt data.
Much of the problem is that people are clueless to what is going on. They use free services not knowing their data and personal privacy is what they are giving away. For users that install mobile apps, they are sharing nearly all of their personal information. Considering many users have over 40 apps, the amount of personal data being obtained is staggering
Finally, users don’t know what good security looks like. The book is a valiant attempt to show users that while they think they are using the Internet in a pristine environment, it is simply a cesspool of malware, scammers and miscreants. In Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It is a great wake-up call. Let just hope everyone wakes up and read it.