By Kyoichi Sasazawa / Japan News Staff WriterCyberphobia: Identity, Trust, Security and the Internet
By Edward Lucas
No one, even a light computer user, is completely immune to the threat of cyber-attacks. So warns Edward Lucas in his new book, “Cyberphobia,” which tries to explain how to survive today’s critical cyber environment. The author is a senior editor at the Economist and also published “The Snowden Operation: Inside the West’s Greatest Intelligence Disaster” in 2014.
While books regarding science and technology are prone to be difficult and contain plenty of technical terms, this one is relatively easy to understand because it describes cyber-attack threats in daily life through the eyes of a fictional but suggestively named couple, Chip and Pin Hakhett.
The Hakhetts’ personal mail account on the Internet is hijacked, and scam e-mails are sent to their friends and other recipients. The couple cannot take any effective countermeasures because they cannot log in to their own e-mail account. Furthermore, their online bank account was plundered minutes after a scam mail was sent to their main bank. The author warns that “loss of online banking credentials is far worse than losing your ATM card and PIN.”
A recent real episode involving a Japanese programmer who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., is also interesting. His simple Twitter handle “@N” was stolen by a malicious person who once offered him $50,000 to buy it. Readers can understand we live in a different world now. Intangible and seemingly insignificant matters take on huge value, and new kinds of malice unexpectedly target careless and innocent people.
In the past 20 years, the Internet has expanded rapidly and is also widely open to those seeking invisibility. However, the book claims this potential for anonymity actually means that neither privacy nor secrecy is really possible for anyone.
This book suggests using alternate search engines like “duckduckgo,” which professes to be “the search engine that doesn’t track you,” and a paid-for e-mail provider rather than popular free mail, such as gmail. It also claims that people do not have to shop with Amazon or iTunes. “Cyberphobia” also introduces alternate apps one can use to avoid being tracked by major online services that accumulate big data. It conveniently shows examples of these solutions, even if not all readers will wish to put them into use.
In addition, to help us avert the cyber threats, Lucas suggests the following “three big points”:
■ Take elementary precautions to avoid the most basic threats.
■ Be cautious about services that purport to be “free.”
■ Utilize strong (verifiable) digital identities to identify ourselves to others, and have them establish their credentials as well.
The book suggestively begins with a 1998 quote by a past director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency: “We are staking our future on a resource that we have not yet learned to protect.” This predicts the current state of cybersecurity. As he warned, we don’t understand how vulnerable and complicated the Internet community is. We use and live with things we don’t understand.
A Japanese anthropologist said, “Homo sapiens in the [late Stone Age] completely ‘understood’ the features and usage of everything surrounding them as food or tools, even if the people did not know modern information regarding their chemical components or quantum mechanism.” We are now exposed to a flood of information, but do we really understand the cyber world surrounding us? We may have retrogressed as an animal species less aware than our Stone Age ancestors.
Where to read
On the desk where you usually use your PC or tablet. Or out in nature where no civilized machinery exists.