Celling Ourselves

Don’t look now, but you are under surveillance. Every place you go, everyone you talk to, is being tracked.

And it’s being done by your own smartphone.

“In 2012, researchers were able to use this data to predict where people would be 24 hours later, to within 20 meters,” writes security expert and author Bruce Schneier.

While you were reading those two paragraphs, you have just been bought and sold. Over and over again. Companies like Sense Data build profiles on where you are at any given moment and sell the data to local businesses, who then use it to send targeted advertising messages.

This is out of the realm of science fiction and futuristic writers. The future is now. And it’s not only advertisers. Governments use cell data to track and control people. Schneier writes, “In 2014, the government of Ukraine sent this positively Orwellian text message to people in Kiev whose phones were at a certain place during a certain time period: ‘Dear subscriber, you have been registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.’”

And he adds, “Don’t think this behavior is limited to totalitarian countries; in 2010, Michigan police sought information about every cell phone in service near an expected labor protest. They didn’t bother getting a warrant first.”

Anxious parents — or stalkers — can also use such data to track someone’s whereabouts at any given moment.

Of course, it’s not only smartphones. Every time we go online, we make a deal with Verizon, Microsoft, Google, Amazon … and all the others … that, for convenient communicating, buying and selling — and instant information — we’re willing to give away our private information.

Instead of maps, many drivers use smartphones to get turn-by-turn directions. But to get that convenience, they reveal where they are and where they are going. Who else has access to that information?

Ever since Edward Snowden became the genie who left the lamp, we all know that the National Security Agency (NSA) knows more than we can ever begin to guess about every one of us. Who has access to that data? What are they planning on doing with it?

Computers and the internet have changed the way we live. Unless you move to a cabin on Walden Pond, they have your numbers. Use a credit card or an ATM card, and you surrender information. Buy medical insurance and you are vulnerable.

Premera Blue Cross, a health insurer based in the Pacific Northwest, revealed Tuesday that it was the victim of a cyberattack that could affect 11 million people.

The company said hackers gained access to its systems on May 5, and that it did not discover the breach until January 29.

The breach could have exposed members’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, mailing and email addresses, phone numbers, member ID numbers and bank account information, the Mountlake Terrace, Washington, company said.

Cybercrime expert Brian Krebs asserts that, although Premera isn’t saying so just yet, there are independent indicators that this intrusion is once again the work of state-sponsored espionage groups based in China.

Spam was once looked at as a prank by people who discovered it was more fun to vandalize computers worldwide than paint mustaches on subway posters. But Krebs points out that the danger has gone way beyond adolescent pranks.

Spam can be part of a botnet — spyware that hijacks computers and uses them as hosts to attack major systems at companies or governments.

In a 1939 radio broadcast, Winston Churchill said “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”

We don’t have the key to what has been called Cyberia. It is a state with no borders, an empire with no visible leaders. And we can’t begin to guess what their national interest might be.

But one thing we do know. If you don’t willingly open yourself to cybercrime, you reduce your risk. They can’t hijack your social media info if you don’t have any. They can’t hack your cellphone data if it isn’t connected to the internet. They can’t hack the information you provide a search engine … if you don’t search online.

In additional to obvious spiritual reasons, the guidelines of the Rabbanim to limit internet use are your best protection for personal and financial cybersafety.