Something to Think About

“There is so much that people take for granted”

— Vivienne Westwood

What does it mean to take something for granted? Does it mean to decide something is not worth being bothered about or not even remembering to think about something? A recent chat with a friend made me think about something few persons even bother about—online security. 

While chatting with this friend via WhatsApp, I jokingly “threatened” to kidnap him. His jocular response was that my threat was in black and white, so he was glad if anything were to happen to him, I would be in hot soup. Whereas it was clear we were both joking, I proceeded to delete the “threat” as I had no intention of hearing “stories that touch” in future. My resorting to WhatsApp’s delete feature triggered a discussion about how the feature is implemented.

Since WhatsApp’s servers are merely transit points for chats and not used for storing messages, this friend being a software developer theorised on whether deleted messages are truly deleted on phones or merely marked as deleted in the app’s database. The paranoid part of me worried at the latter possibility. If deleted messages are not truly deleted but merely assigned a value in the database to restrict being displayed, what is the guarantee that someone or some organisation could not hack into someone’s phone, download the WhatsApp data and attempt to crack the encrypted database? My friend’s attempt at assuring me that the encryption was unbreakable was unsuccessful as I hold the [silly?] view that anything is hackable given sufficient time and resources. Maybe that’s just silly pessimism at work.

My mind switched to organisations where documents must be shredded before being disposed of. That’s an attempt to avoid situations where sensitive documents marked for disposal are accessed by unauthorised persons. On the computing side, there have been instances of “deleted” files being recovered from hard drives because operating systems merely mark files as deleted without actually deleting them until another file occupies that space. To avoid this possibility, some persons use “shredding” software to ensure a deleted file is truly deleted.

At this point, I should apologise for how this article has gone up to this point. The aim of this article is not to ramble about the security of data. Rather, the aim is for you to think about some things you might not have considered before now. If you are among the league of persons who repeat the same passwords across different websites, it’s time for a rethink, especially considering high-profile hacks on some websites highlighting security vulnerabilities. If you send messages without thinking whether such messages could implicate you in future, it’s time for a rethink. If you post things online without considering whether such posts may portray you in a negative light, you need to change. If you install any and all browser toolbars you come across, please think about the security of your login credentials. If you click any link you see online without being mindful of malicious sites, it’s time for a rethink.

I could go on listing things many of us take for granted. Before anyone attempts to psychoanalyse me as a paranoid freak, please be assured I don’t take life that seriously. I’m just saying we need to be a bit mindful about our actions and inactions when relating with tech tools. If you can get this message, then my job here is done.

Image Credit: dice.com

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