Wednesday, October 16, 2019
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Posted at: May 16, 2019, 6:31 AM; last updated: May 16, 2019, 6:31 AM (IST)

End-to-end insecurity

Digital media remains vulnerable
End-to-end insecurity

Imagine users waking up to a headline that says that their favourite communication app is not secure. Well, for the 150 crore users of WhatsApp, this has become a reality. A swift software fix response is a finger in the dyke, but the larger question of the vulnerability of the most used communication app in the world remains. The end-to-end encryption promised and provided by the Facebook-owned app has been its major draw, and now it turns out that hackers were able to exploit a flaw in the system to read the messages of a target's device. It would be of little comfort to the users that it is likely that specific types of people — lawyers, rights activists and journalists — were targeted, while the general public was not. 

The WhatsApp saga is the latest, and certainly not the last, public exposure of the vulnerability of the digitally connected world. It is evident that even as lip service is paid to cybersecurity, not enough is done. The companies that provide various services are mainly to blame, but so are individual users who fail to update the security patches made available to them. Although in this case, the security patch that repaired the breach only came after the vulnerability was exposed. 

It is ironic that our use of cyber facilities increases dramatically even as the notion of online privacy becomes more and more nebulous. Companies that earn their revenues through the Internet have increasingly been exposed for not caring enough about the privacy of their customers. Private information is traded online commercially. Hackers with malicious intent steal online information to exploit and trade, as do various commercial and governmental assets. The user is vulnerable and is likely to remain so, and the companies that provide various services will not be able to provide the security they promise. The answer then would be to take simple precautions like updating the software frequently and taking care to post as little sensitive information via cyber services as possible. Difficult to do in this age and day, but then so is realising that what you thought was private is open to exposure.


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