“Zucking Up” Information Security

Any parent of a teenager should read “Facebook threatens to ‘Zuck up’ the human race,” a recent article by entrepreneur-turned-author, Andrew Keen. In his harsh critique of the age of social media, he argues that “[by] sabotaging what it really means to be human, Facebook is stealing the innocence of our inner lives… [Most] of all, Facebook is destroying our privacy as discrete individuals.” Ah-ha! I exclaimed to myself. I’m not the only Luddite! I’m not the only one worried about this.

But Keen just touches the tip of the iceberg as far as I am concerned. As the CEO of an information risk management software company, my concern goes much further — what will this oversharing mean to those who are trying to protect our energy infrastructure? Our financial system? Our credit worthiness?

He brushes against this by referencing a study by Jon Miller, the Director of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, and Aisha Sultan, a Fellow at the University of Michigan on “Facebook Parenting” in which they report the findings of a decades-long survey of 4,000 middle school children turned adults. Their conclusion: “We’ve created a sense of normality about a world where what’s private is public. The sense of being entitled to privacy has been devalued.”

When you most recently signed up for an on-line service, what sort of information did they ask from you to enable you to reset your password if you forgot it? We have gone beyond Mother’s Maiden Name, haven’t we? But let me ask you… isn’t it information that might be shared somewhere on the Internet? Your first pet’s name? The make and model of your first car? Your father’s home town? Your high school mascot?

It is not too hard to see this information being on your Facebook page, or the page of those who are your “friends.” And it’s not just an issue of you posting that you are going on a wonderful vacation or are about to visit your child in college – giving local burglars a tipoff.

We continue to hear from the FBI and others that organized crime and terrorists have been doing long range planning, and are gathering information that may be used decades from now. Information like your pet’s name, your father’s home town, and your high school mascot will be useful in the future. As Miller and Sultan state, “there is no delete key for the Internet.”

We cannot expect Facebook or any other social media service to protect our privacy. That is our responsibility. Will there come to pass some miracle, ubiquitous technology to smooth our use of the multiple internet-based services we use, and at the same time strengthen the security of our personal information? Perhaps.

But so long as we are as careless with our private information as we are today, we are the ones responsible for “Zucking up” our own privacy, and eventually the security of the systems on which we base our economic identity.

Chris is co-founder and CEO of Courion, a provider of Access Assurance solutions. Prior to Courion, Chris was a co-founder and partner at Onsett International, an IT service and security consulting firm. While at Onsett, he led IT operations re-engineering, enterprise security, and global network architecture programs for several Global 500 customers and led Onsett's marketing and sales efforts to achieve 90% annualised growth over the course of five years. He holds Bachelor of Science degrees in both Economics and Political Science from MIT and a Master of Science degree in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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