The issue of online security is never far in the background these days: high-profile TV presenters in court for downloading child pornography [link]; Julian Assange holed-up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London; or attacks by Anonymous on Melbourne IT (AAPT) records that allegedly made some of the ISP's users' private information public.
While we can all applaud the apprehension of criminals through police monitoring; and we might be swayed by Assange's assertions that corporate and government secrets are forms of conspiracy and that such conspiracy is a bad thing; we may not be so pleased by our browsing history; or worse, our medical history; or our employer's HR records being made available to a cyber bully or blackmailer.
It is increasingly difficult, perhaps impossible, to keep our personal records and secrets out of computer systems that have the potential to be hacked; as easily by the bad guys as by the good.
Depending on your point of view the vigilantly group Anonymous may be: the good; the bad; or the ugly. They say the hack at Melbourne IT was to highlight the risk of forcing ISPs to keep client's browsing records; and a protest, in general, against the proposal to give Australian police and security agencies wide sweeping powers to intercept and examine our electronic records.
The recent ABC interview with Nicola Roxon, Federal Attorney General and Neil Gaugan, Assistant Commissioner, Australian Federal Police (on 1st August 2012) was informative.
The proposed laws would allow agencies to bypass encryption by installing tracking software on a suspect's computer, presumably remotely and undetected, and by forcing users to surrender computer passwords. How: by torture? I'm sorry Your Honour I've forgotten! - OK that'll be 20 years for contempt. Maybe rendition to Guantanamo would do the trick.
One thing Neil Gaugan did say was that: 'Encryption's killing us. Encryption is extremely difficult for us. It's very expensive, very clunky, very slow to decode encrypted Internet protocols.' he did not say it was impossible to break.
When asked about the proposal to force ISPs to keep user browsing and email information for two years he said: 'What we're asking for is data retention to be across the board. So, it's in relation to if you and I emailed each other, not the content of that particular communication, but the context, i.e. when it took place, where we were when we did it, time, date.'
Anonymous has just demonstrated that this information may not be exclusive to your ISP, ASIO and the police; but could potentially fall into the hands of your business competitor; a cyber bully; or a blackmailer.
You can read the whole ABC story by Hayden Cooper in which he also interviewed a cyber activist; an IT expert; and a victim online - Click here
I have discussed many of these issues elsewhere on this website:
For issues around business records (these may include your HR records or medical history) - click here
For issues around conspiracy and Wikileaks - click here
For a discussion around secure encryption and personal privacy - click here