If you’re a fan of Game Of Thrones (GOT), you might have got a little more GOT than you expected this past week: series producer and satellite TV network HBO was hacked, with the hackers claiming they stole 1.5 terabytes of data. That’s even more data than was stolen at the 2014 hack of entertainment company Sony that saw digital thieves make off with 200 gigabytes of data (and some embarrassing e-mails, because we all have embarrassing e-mails).
Earlier this year there was the WannaCry virus that was designed to hit old Windows operating systems and hold data for ransom. And the world found out that the majority of users of old operating systems were places like hospitals, and so doctors found themselves locked out of vital patient data.
The threat of being hacked, especially in a day and age when our lives are on our phones, tablets and laptops, is a sobering reality now.
But how likely is any one individual to get hacked?
First off, where would we get hacked? Many people – including myself – are hesitant about using Cloud storage systems. After 2014’s Fappening – when compromising photos of many celebrities were released after their accounts were hacked – it seems to be a legit concern. But in a chat with the good folk at Google, I learned something: storing our data has been designed to be a complicated process exactly so we can’t get hacked.
Take the example of a selfie that I store in the Cloud. Yes, the data is uploaded to the Cloud. But the Cloud is contained in server farms around the world. So that selfie ends up all over the world, in part for back up, in part so if I travel to another continent, I can see a photo of myself just as fast as when I’m at home. Narcissism is fun and easy with the Cloud!
But the part I didn’t know is that only parts of that photo are stored on any one server. So that selfie is broken down into different pieces and stored all over the place, and only when you have all the parts can you actually see my picture. That’s pretty secure.
And then imagine this: each piece of that selfie is given a different encryption key, so even if you do get hold of all the parts, if you don’t have the encryption keys, you can’t actually put the photo together and look at my smiling face.
So even if you were to hack the Google Cloud, you’d most likely end up with a bunch of partial files that you don’t have the encryption keys for – essentially, a lot of gibberish.
That seems pretty secure. And it has to be. Google and lots of data storage services make their money by protecting our data, so if someone can hack it, they would be useless.
So what went down when the Fappening was happening (couldn’t wait to use that!)? Basically, a bunch of celebs were using careless passwords like “1234” and “password”, and their accounts were hacked with brute force. Basically, the user was the weakness.
But back to the HBO hack: Surely a big company like that would use data storage services with the type of security I describe above. Turns out it didn’t. Roderick Jones, founder of cyber security and privacy firm Rubica, says that media companies lag far behind on tech and cyber security, and that most likely the hack was done through one of the company’s older operating systems, just like in the case with hospitals.
Which really makes no sense: The places where lives are supposed to be saved depend on outdated tech while the places used to store photos we take of our lunch or our genitalia so we can send it to that special someone use state-of-the-art security.
HBO seems to have been a victim of being too cheap to upgrade Windows XP.
So maybe our data is safe in a Cloud, as hackers seem to be going after low hanging fruit – but, guess what, low hanging fruit is basically all the data we keep on our devices that isn’t stored online, I discovered.
When I was at Defcon (the huge hacker convention held annually in Las Vegas) there was a fun contest to see who could hack into people’s devices on open network WiFi, like the connections offered in hotels and cafes. In fact, open WiFi connections are some of the easiest things to hack, and if you’re like me – too cheap to pay for your own Internet connection – you’re on open networks all day long. I’m writing this column on one right now!
Ultimately, we’re all hackable. If someone puts their mind to it, maybe the only thing protecting the average person – ie, you and me – from being targeted and hacked is that no one wants to read our boring e-mails.
Catch Jason Godfrey on Inspiring Homes on Life Inspired (Astro CH 728).