I Know Your Social Security Number

Assume bad guys already have your personal information. Every week there is a news article about a large organization getting breached or a new startup not building a secure system.. I can attest that breaking into Fortune 500 companies isn’t difficult or challenging.

But, why do we assume our personal information is secure? Science fiction authors have been writing about the loss of privacy in the digital age since science fiction began. It’s so common in science fiction, readers consider it cliche.

Digital Doesn’t Mean Advanced Analog

Science Fiction authors knew when we began living in a digital age things become complicated. But, they didn’t grasp the idea of what digital meant. Science Fiction authors definition of digital was an advanced analog device.

Think about Nineteen-Eighty-Four. In the book, Big Brother is watching on cameras mounted throughout the world, like London today. But, when George Orwell wrote the book, someone had to physically watch the camera feed. One person per camera. Even if you recorded the feed with a tape, someone would then have to watch the tape. Orwell didn’t imagine a world where a human would only have to watch the highlights that a computer deemed as non-common behavior.

Living Off the Grid Doesn’t Help

Even if you attempt to protect yourself there are still ways of tracking you. Maybe one of the following is true:

  • You aren’t reading this on a computer, because you printed it out from the library. (You have a library card; you used a computer to access it)
  • You write checks to pay for groceries. (You have a bank account; you use a club card)
  • You don’t own or use cellphones. (you have a land line; you pay the phone company; you have Internet access; you watch tv)

Just because you do things a different way doesn’t make your personal information any safer.

Even by reading this article, certain services know your identity. If you found this article by clicking a link on Facebook or through a Google search those services know you read this article.

If you live in the United States the following are most likely true:

  • You have a social security number.
  • You have a bank account.
  • You are an employee (self-employment still counts)
  • You pay taxes. (If you don’t, you have bigger problems.)

These things alone mean your name and personal information goes through a computer at least every pay cycle.

Assume All Your Information is Public

I’m not concerned about insecurity because I assume my information is already compromised.

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting you post personally identifiable information publicly. You should still take all the same precautions you have before. Think and act securely, but don’t assume others take YOUR private information as securely as you do.

Now, someone reading this is thinking: I am an employee (or founder) of SecureCompany™ and we are serious about our customers information and privacy. No, you aren’t. My proof? You aren’t the whole company. The security adage “You are only as secure as your weakest link” applies here. Someone you work with whether employed, a consultant, or a third-party doesn’t take security as seriously as you do. That means, somewhere along the chain, your organization is weak and is exactly what I would exploit to get that information.

So stop being so paranoid about it. Stop getting scared and continually discussing FUD that the media slings. If every day you expect to get in a car accident, when it eventually happens, are you surprised? No. But, you will be more prepared than the person who doesn’t wake up everyday making that assumption.

Originally published at bretthard.in on March 5, 2015.

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