By Laura Yecies
What would you do if the Internet simply couldn’t be secured?
If you believe all the threat reports/analysis/discoveries/warnings frenetically crossing the wires on an almost daily basis, it may seem like the hackers are winning despite over a decade of security innovation. The latest headlines have been enough to make even the most security conscious second-guess their security strategy.
Not that I agree with those gloom-and-doom reports, but I got to thinking…what if someday they were right? What if things deteriorated so badly that security was rendered totally ineffective against the bad guys?
What would you do?
The easy answer…you could unplug altogether. Extreme, but effective I guess.
More likely, you’d have to adapt. Just like people living in rough neighborhoods can’t simply hide indoors with gang wars raging on outside, you’d still probably use the Internet. But in a world with no online security, much of what you do on the ‘Net every day would have to change. You’d have to be extremely wary all the time.
First, you’d have to severely limit your activities to mitigate the risk of exposure.
You’d have to assume as soon as you plug in that squeaky clean brand-new PC, it would be compromised by hackers within seconds (true even today…port scans to random IP addresses can find a firewall-less PC in less than 8 seconds in our testing). So no personal files could be kept on the PC. Ever. You’d probably end up having two …a disposable PC for the Internet and a disconnected PC for any personal computing or storing anything remotely sensitive
Once surfing with the “dirty” PC, you’d have to take extra care to remain totally anonymous. No credit cards, no online banking, no stock trading etc. You couldn’t do anything involving information that could lead back to you in real life. Why is anonymity so critical?
Because the information you transmit over the Internet to bank, shop or conduct other sensitive transactions is the same information that make identity thieves thrive. Either they steal your credit card for immediate purchases or hack into your stock/bank account with your keylogger-captured username and password and transfer out all your funds, or they build a more complete profile of you and sell it in aggregate form on the Internet’s black market for as little as 50 cents. At that point, some unscrupulous identity thief has free reign over your life…s/he can open up new credit in your name, redirect your mail, turn off your utilities, travel in your name etc.
E-mail would remain possible, assuming you were willing to wade through thousands of spam mails a day, but you’d have to set up online e-mails using fake registration information (IE address, phone etc) and a pseudonym. Content would be limited to social and benign topics, because you’d have to assume everything you typed or sent was being read by someone. Same with gaming, social networking etc. You’d have to pretend to be someone else.
Your PC may even be rendered useless, riddled with spyware, adware (remember those pesky pop-ups you so rarely see these days??) and viruses. Hackers may even hold it for ransom. Bandwidth on the Net would be sucked up and traffic would slow to a crawl under the weight on all the DDoS attacks, spam, malicious downloads etc.
And this is just how insecurity on the ‘Net would affect your personal ‘Net life. The implications on corporations would be devastating, potentially grinding the economy to a standstill. Business communications over the Internet would have to be halted, so all of the productivity gains made in the past two decades would disappear overnight. Remember when your credit card was carbon-copy-swiped? The only way to know what hit your account was through the mailed monthly statements. You’d have to go to the bank to deposit your paycheck…no more direct deposit (and it would take days and days to access the money). Phone calls would cost dollars-per-minute instead of pennies, because VoIP networks would be rendered useless. Just the tip of the iceberg.
So, when you put it all into perspective, maybe things aren’t as bad today as some would have you think. Of course, everything isn’t so hunky-dory that you can run around ‘naked’ on the ‘Net, but with a few basic precautions, IE a little ‘Net smarts, a tough firewall, effective A/V+anti-spyware, and browser security, you can stay safe online.