• Matthew Kaufman

Security: Everyone's Favorite Joke

“In a world dominated by data hack after data hack, what even is security?”

More than ever before, our data is becoming increasingly digitized. Everything from your bank account information, to your preferences in food and other things, to even your heart beats thanks to that smartwatch or fitness app you’ve been using. It’s to the point where data scientists, the people who write the algorithms that determine what’s hot and what’s not, are even saying that we have too much data on people. They can tell almost anything they want, they just need time to figure things about them.

This isn’t even a bad thing. It’s awesome. We live in an era where a little paperweight of about six ounces that fits perfectly in your pocket can easily tell what your next favorite restaurant is going to be, how to get there, place an order for you so your favorite meal can be ready when you walk in, pay for it, and even help you meet the love of your life who might just happen to be sitting at the next table looking at their paper weight. If you told anyone this was the future 50 years ago, they would’ve thought you were a loon and talking pure science fiction. But it’s real, and it’s here today.

However, in our search for ultimate convenience, we have offered up something critical; our security and privacy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those doom sayers who is going to scream we need to encrypt everything. In fact, I generally kind of laugh at those people and walk away. The reason being is that in digitizing our data, we have forfeited it. Encryption and Data Security are two of my favorite most cruel jokes in the modern world.

Facebook, Equifax, Facebook, Marriott Starwood, Facebook, MyFitnessPal, Facebook, Quora, Facebook, Quora, Facebook, Google+, and did I forget to mention Facebook? All of these were major data hacks in 2018. Seriously, the security on Facebook works about as well as a sieve retains water. But these are just isolated incidents, right? No, and it’s not just your imagination that it seems to be happening more and more. Even worse is that as we give up more and more data on ourselves these will continue to happen even more. But why is that?

Well, in short the problem and answer involves one little magical word, “quantum”. Now, I’m not going to get into the math, science, or anything else as I do enough to melt people’s minds around here, I don’t want to make it any worse. So I’ll give you the brief overview.

When we first started recording data on computers, we never planned security in the mix. There was no need. How could anyone have known that the internet and computers would become so prolific? That doesn’t mean we don’t secure data, it just means that we never planned it and now we’re trying to enforce something that wasn’t planned. The good news is that we got pretty good at enforcing security. Much like a bouncer at a nightclub, we armed ourselves with our best weapon. In this case, that weapon was math. We use this special algorithm called RSA that was really really good at data security. The problem was that the baddies also were able to get their hands on math and began getting good at math. So it quickly became an arms race on who could have the bigger math. For a while, the good guys have been winning. But we’re hitting a big wall called “quantum”.

So what happens is that there’s this super “quantum” math, and it can render any non “quantum” math method of data defense absolutely useless. And when I mean useless, I mean that the non-”quantum” time to break RSA clocks in around the end of time. Meanwhile the “quantum” method takes a trivial amount of time, say about 5 minutes. But this is all science fiction, right? “Quantum” things are so far into the future, right? Well, call me a loon who speaks nothing but science fiction, but “quantum” WILL happen and IS happening already. Big computer giants like Intel, IBM, and company are already making quantum machines. These machines could be easily used to break almost every single chunk of data in the world. But there’s a glimmer of hope. You see, just like quantum can be used to destroy us, it can be used to save us. We have means of quantum defense. And quantum offense can’t really beat quantum defense. The problem being that a lot of people think things are fine as is, and honestly, maybe they are.

“They still think it's anywhere from 15 to 30 years away but data can last a very long time. The good news is most of the data we had doesn't have to be kept secure for 30 years, but some of it does.” - Matthew Green, Security Expert at Johns Hopkins.

Maybe it’s a morbid joke, but not all data needs to be kept secure. This is a more telling problem and answer for people to think about generally. After all, it may be creepy but do you really care if Hacker McJoe knows that you like Vanilla instead of Chocolate? On the flip side, I’m sure you care about Mr. or Mrs. McJoe knowing your bank account and PIN information. You see, Data Security, besides being a really funny joke to me, does provide a fun thought experiment. What do we really care about people knowing about and what don’t we care about them knowing? Isn’t that what social media is supposed to be about? Sharing with people all over world things that you want them to know? You WANT them to see that video of your baby taking their first steps. You WANT to talk to them about your favorite or least favorite politician.

So maybe the final answer comes down to this. Shouldn’t it be on us, as people, to decide what we do and don’t digitize? I used to know a professor, a mentor, and a friend of mine who was lucky enough to work on ARPANET which laid the groundwork for the Internet as we know it. That person also never would do his banking online, because he knew the systems backing it and didn’t trust them. Sure, that may sound kind of insane, but he wanted a zero chance of him getting his information hacked. So go ahead, and share everything you want people to see. Tell the whole world, but don’t you dare think for a minute that what you’re sharing is or will be securely kept to just those you want to see it. If you want to keep it private, keep it away from computers.

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