The modern, efficient criminal is digitally casing you

You're being tracked, watched, listened to – and you're just living a normal life. The threat of a personal data breach is real and constant

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By Brennen Schmidt
ALEUS Technology Group
and Allan Bonner
Troy Media columnist

“I don’t have anything to hide,” say many social media users and online shoppers.

But most of us do have something to hide – we just aren’t sure what it is.

You pass by hospitals and supermarkets. You may also pass a university where research is being done. Somebody knows this because of big data. Big data exists via the computers in our cars, GPS, smart phones and electronic wallets.

Brennen Schmidt

So far this is harmless – but it gets worse. That electronic wallet data and credit card records show what magazines we’ve purchased, stores we’ve shopped in, and time of day we’re out and about. Big data also shows who’s out and about with us.

The old-fashioned criminal ‘cased the joint’ by parking outside your home for a bit to take note of your habits. Imagine how efficient criminals can now be by digitally casing the joint?

But it gets even worse. What if you also are a gun collector or hunter? There’s a record of that, too, and a record of how often you shoot at a range. Perhaps you also collect knives or military memorabilia.

All your activities are legal and should be your private business. But what if there’s an incident at that hospital, supermarket or university research lab? The incident involves animal rights, environmental matters or abortion. These are among the issues identified as threats to Canadian security in the 1990s.

What if you also drive by a Christian church or Jewish temple?

Fundamentalism in these two religions was identified as top threats by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency prior to 9/11.

Allan Bonner

Circumstantial evidence is now pointing to you. You appear to have motive via the magazine subscriptions; means because of your guns and knives; and opportunity because you were there often, perhaps casing the joint, and you were there within minutes of the incident.

This is what you had to hide and you didn’t even know it.

The even greater threat is that all of this data is being collected and stored for future use.

It’s this data that caused Google to morph from a search engine to a diversified multinational. Google is now operating high-speed Internet services, conducting anti-aging research, is an investment firm, working on self-driving cars, and doing work in many other fields in which knowing demographics and behaviour is a competitive advantage.

Cyber security companies know how technology can be exploited. They’re recruiting specialists and expanding all over the world. Forbes estimates the global market will reach $170 billion by 2020.

The cyber security market is big because of the power someone will have by holding that data for ransom. If you lose data or someone steals it, some can be recreated. You can rewrite a document or try to find a paper copy of a photo. You can cancel credit cards and get new government identification.

But some data can’t be reproduced, and some gives instant access to your bank account and credit – before you can protect yourself. Some data or modified data can get you fired, put in jail or even killed.

Then there’s voice recognition. We already have criminals asking questions on a phone call to get you to say “Yes.” This is used to prove you purchased something. Criminals can record a few sentences of your speech and recreate your voice saying almost anything.

Imagine who might get a call from you giving instructions you don’t actually want followed.

It’s time to start paying attention to data.

Dr. Allan Bonner, MSc, DBA, is a crisis manager based in Toronto. His forthcoming book is Cyber City Safe. Brennen Schmidt (BEd, Certiftied PR, CUA) is principal of the ALEUS Technology Group, a boutique digital communications firm in Regina.


modern criminal, digitally casing you

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