In a world rife with stories of ransomware, identity theft, and corporate security breaches, how do you respond? Do you lean forward to learn more, or do you find yourself turning a blind eye? Has the barrage of threats left you feeling numb or anxious? Have you ever stopped to consciously consider how it makes you feel or behave?
As media outlets vie for our attention with shadowy hackers and security scare tactics, many of us feel anxious and powerless. Faced with fear we often turn to denial to help us cope. One definition of denial is “the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist.” When it comes to denial and cybersecurity we may tell ourselves a range of stories:
• “The odds are it won’t happen to me.”
• “I keep a low profile online, so I’m probably safe. Who will find me?”
• “My passwords are already strong enough. Who could possibly guess them?”
• “There’s nothing I can do about it, so why worry?”
The fact is we’re more at risk than we realize, and denial only leaves us exposed. But there are ways we can help ourselves and find greater peace of mind.
Understanding Real Threats & Reputable Sources of Information
The biggest threat to your privacy and security is not knowing what you don’t know. The only way to overcome this threat is through education. Once we have the facts, we can proceed rationally. But in an age where hard science is disputed by politicians and “alternative facts” are promoted as reality, who can we trust to help us see clearly?
Reputable investigative journalism is a good place to start. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled “Your Data Is Way More Exposed Than You Realize.” In the article and accompanying video WSJ Personal Tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler, “show[s] a handful of strangers their own personal info—and manage[s] to shock every one.” The article goes on to detail how this information may be “weaponized” for identity theft and harassment.
There are others providing level-headed analysis of global privacy and security issues. One such organization is the World Economic Forum.
According to their mission, the WEF “is committed to improving the state of the world, is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation. The Forum engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”
1. You may not know what you don’t know
2. It is likely you are implicitly and/or reluctantly consenting
3. You don’t have the level of control that you should have
4. If you are clueless about most terms and conditions of use, you are not alone
5. Paying for free stuff with your privacy may actually be a bad deal
There are also tools in development which can help you gain insight into how your information is collected and shared by apps. FastCompany has an excellent, in-depth profile of ReCon and the Haystack Project in their article, “Here’s How To Track The Smartphone Apps That Are Tracking You.” Both projects provide exceptional visibility into how Personally Identifiable Information (PII) as well as other forms of personal information may be inadvertently (or intentionally) accessed and distributed. As more of the objects in our everyday lives become connected to the network, we need to understand how they’re operating if we’re going to eventually trust innovations such as smart home devices.
Choosing Hope for Privacy Over Despair
At this point, you may feel yourself throwing your hands up. Pause for a moment with this discomfort, take a deep breath and keep in mind: These threats exist whether you know about them or not. Isn’t it better to SEE clearly the way our information is gathered and used?
It may not seem like it, but it can be better if you have a productive mindset for managing the natural instinct towards denial. Here are some tips for fostering hope for privacy protection:
1. Give yourself permission to take time. Be patient with yourself as you endeavor to learn and align your behaviors with your values. Creating a privacy practice is an ongoing process.
2. Recognize—but do not fear—the unknown. Exchange fear for excitement. When you come across something which confuses, intimidates, or leaves you uneasy, take it as a sign you have discovered a learning opportunity.
3. Stick to the facts. Seek credible sources with good reputations. Discern as best you can between fear-mongering and honesty. Write down facts and remind yourself to work with them.
4. Start conversations about the aspects of privacy and security you fear most. Confronting what you’d rather be in denial about is a powerful way to connect with others and learn from their experiences. (This is also an essential part of taking social responsibility for your privacy.)
As the poet Yusef Komunyakaa writes:
“I knew life / Began where I stood in the dark, / Looking out into the light.”
Don’t dwell forever in the darkness of denial. You can do your part to foster hope for privacy and security awareness.