Is your personal data safe out there in cyberspace? This is the question so many people have been asking lately based on seemingly endless computer hacks. And, unfortunately, the answer to this question might not be what you want to hear.
In terms of recent noteworthy developments, unless you have been living in an isolated cave, you undoubtedly have heard about the Ashley Madison hacking disaster. The Ashley Madison hack does not only present a problem for the site’s users who thought that their personally identifiable information would be secure, but it points to a larger problem beyond this one specific site.
How so? The passwords used on the site were encrypted and were supposed to be “uncrackable” according to the BBC. However, as further reported by the BBC, programming changes by Ashley Madison’s site developers caused in excess of one-third of the site’s passwords to be inadequately protected.
While the group that cracked these passwords has said that it will not share the decoded passwords, the BBC reports that this group has detailed its methods in cracking the passwords, such that other hackers could duplicate this work as to these passwords on the Ashley Madison site and elsewhere.
And, if supposedly secure passwords relating to the Ashley Madison site can be cracked, one would think that passwords used on various other sites could be hacked as well.
Hence, the answer to the original question appears to suggest that our data is not terribly safe in cyberspace, especially if even “uncrackable” passwords can be cracked.
Beyond that, Business Insider has just reported that hackers now are not only seeking data such as credit card and Social Security numbers, they also are seeking other personal information such as messages, photos, and health information for extortion and other purposes. Because of functions such as dating apps and health tracking services, not to mention social media, people now are putting all sorts of new and different kinds of personal information on the Internet. That information can be compromised by hackers.
So, the answer to the question is not a happy one. People should be careful about the information they share on the Internet and they should try to use reputable websites and apps.
But even those sites and apps can be compromised. In this day and age, we are living at least parts of our lives online, and there is no escaping the fact that our personal data can be at risk.
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.