“When secrecy is truly paramount, go back to communications systems that are still ephemeral: Pick up the telephone and talk.”
By Bruce Schneier as republished in The Age, Melbourne, Mar 9, 2017
A decade ago, I wrote about the death of ephemeral conversation. As computers were becoming ubiquitous, some unintended changes happened, too: Before computers, what we said disappeared once we'd said it. Neither face-to-face conversations nor telephone conversations were routinely recorded. A permanent communication was something different and special; we called it correspondence.
The internet changed this. We now chat by text message and email, on Facebook and on Instagram. These conversations — with friends, lovers, colleagues, fellow employees — all leave electronic trails. And while we know this intellectually, we haven't truly internalised it. We still think of conversation as ephemeral, forgetting that we're being recorded and what we say has the permanence of correspondence.
That our data is used by large companies for psychological manipulation — we call this advertising — is well known. So is its use by governments for law enforcement and, depending on the country, social control. What made the news over the past year were demonstrations of how vulnerable all of this data is to hackers and the effects of having it hacked, copied and then published online. We call this doxing.
Doxing isn't new, but it has become more common. It's been perpetrated against corporations, law firms, individuals, the NSA and — just this week — the CIA. It's largely harassment and not whistleblowing, and it's not going to change anytime soon. The data in your computer and in the cloud are, and will continue to be, vulnerable to hacking and publishing online. Depending on your prominence and the details of this data, you may need some new strategies to secure your private life.
Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; this article originally appeared in the Washington Post.