For many people in the US today was probably both a huge pain in the ass as well as somewhat fascinating. Hopefully it was also terrifying; the massive DDoS attack on Dyn’s Managed DNS that took down many major internet services for hours throughout the day was surely only a harbinger of what’s to come.
But it’s not just the DDoS—presumably triggered by IoT devices and causing more widespread and longer outages than other recent attacks—that caught my attention, but that combined with related events in the news lately. It seems every week I get an email from one company or another asking me to change my passwords because of a data breach, sometimes one that happened years ago and was only recently discovered. Then of course there’s the DNC email leak, almost certainly perpetrated by Russia (we’ll see who ends up being behind today’s attack). Other notable events that jumped out at me include the EFF’s memo to the DOJ regarding the potential nightmare that is the widespread deployment of facial recognition technology, and Tesla’s announcement that you can’t let your self-driving car operate in a competing ride-sharing network. As pointed out by Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, this is a great example of how increasingly we don’t actually own many of the things we own, or at least we are completely unaware of what we really agree to when checking a box after not reading an impossibly long and obtuse PDF of terms and conditions.
Add to this the market caps and power of major tech companies with deeply entrenched network effects and what is the picture that emerges? It is remarkable just how much data and control we have given over to software and the internet as they continue to permeate almost every aspect of our lives. Software is eating the world indeed, but putting so much trust in and reliance upon things that are far from perfect and increasingly ripe for abuse is dangerous, and will get worse before it gets better.
To end on a more positive note—with great peril comes great opportunity. Yes, there have been mountains of cash invested in cybersecurity companies over the past few years, but I doubt most people feel any safer online. The blockchain may very well hold great promises in this area, but there are still massive amounts of work needed to make them a reality. Who will lead the paradigm and platform shifts required to put the individual back in the so-called driver’s seat, even if it’s connected software that’s doing the actual driving?
As a follow up, even if you’re not leading the revolution there are concrete steps you can take now to help protect yourself.