Security, Technology, and Area 51

July 17, 2019|Posted in: Uncategorized

So. You’ve got a million and a half folks signed up to storm Area 51 and see what the government is hiding. That’s like TWICE the number of people who live in the City and County of San Francisco, risking guard dogs and tear gas because they’re just certain that the government is hiding alien autopsies out in the desert.

And y’all think I’M paranoid …

Seriously, even if the Feds DID have top secret information on UFOs … do you honestly think they wouldn’t have moved it decades? What better cover for your undercover activities than promoting a pop culture conspiracy theory that all those activities are housed somewhere ELSE?

But we want to believe that there is something else out there. We want to believe that the government is so well-organized and efficient that it can maintain total secrecy on a project for nearly ¾ of a century—regardless of the fact that the government can’t even agree on who won the latest election. And meanwhile, we’re installing listening devices in our homes at an unprecedented pace because we’re too damn lazy to walk over and turn on the TV to get a weather report.

And before you give me that “oh, there he goes again” look, check this: last week Apple had to disable the Walkie Talkie audio chat feature in its smartwatches to fix a vulnerability that would allow someone to listen in on consumers without their consent. They also found a similar flaw in the videoconferencing app Zoom that could be exploited to trick Mac users into opening a video call, even if they had uninstalled the Zoom app.

It’s not just me, folks.

In fact, even proven-trustworthy sources like Consumer Reports point out there is an issue here. Their research shows that over 40% of Americans who own smartphones believe their device is recording what they say when they haven’t asked it to. According to financial security experts, “Every single link in the transactional chain has vulnerabilities that can be exploited.”

In other words, every new app you install on your device creates another back door into your system, introducing more potential software vulnerabilities that hackers can try to exploit. The more links in the chain, the more likely one of them will be weak.

Now, despite what my friends might tell you, I’m not so naïve as to think everyone is going to up and ditch their cell phones, tablets, and laptops … but there is such a thing as being prudent. All sorts of apps automatically install with permission to access the camera, microphone, and other features, such as location information, on your phone or computer. A lot of them don’t NEED that access to do the job they were built to do, but you still have to actively turn those permissions off. Seriously? What’s up with that?

One of the ways to protect yourself is to make sure you understand what apps have what access. If they’ll function otherwise, turn off any permissions that you aren’t using in your daily life. Why? Again the fewer access points, the better. That way, even if an app is compromised, the attacker will have to make additional hacks to make a direct connection to your camera or microphone.

Stick a piece of tape over your camera when you’re not using it. Cut the earpieces off a cheap pair of earbuds and plug the other end into your mic jack—basically, you’re tricking the computer into thinking you have a microphone plugged in, so it cuts off the internal mike. There’s all sorts of hacks like that. Just do a little digging.

Better yet, open a 6-pack of common sense, people. Every so-called convenience comes with a price … and a responsibility. Trust has to be earned … especially for entities that have clearly demonstrated they are not to be trusted.

After all, being paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you.