The world is getting smaller, thanks to electronic communications methods. This is just a semi-technical way of referring to email, texting, group chat, or other app based messaging into one big group. While these means of communication have been incredibly useful in keeping in touch with friends and family from across the country or around the world, they have also had the consequence of exposing us to new risks.
In their most usable format, these communication channels are largely sent with very basic and outdated means of security. While these are effective from allowing just anyone from being able to intercept your communications, they don’t stop someone with the right toolset and basic technical knowledge from intercepting the family photos or personal messages you’re sending. Essentially, these are like locks on a door; while they keep most people out of your house, they do nothing against someone with a lockpicking set, which are far easier to get than you would think.
Think about all the things you send to people by phone or computer. Health information, banking information, medical and personal appointments, your address, or personal (maybe even some private) photos. Sure, most people aren’t able to get access to this, but the right people with the right set of tools can, and in fact, many companies that provide messaging apps use this as a business model.
If you’ve ever used Facebook messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, or the like, you’ll notice that over time the ads that you are served by the provider can be manipulated by the messages you send and receive. I first noticed this when I was sharing story in Facebook about my friend who has rabbits. After a few days, I began receiving ads in the main website about rabbit supplies, rabbit food, rabbit toys, and the like, despite never having shopped or researched anything else about rabbits.
Now, thinking about the sensitive information that can be sent over electronic communications, and knowing that companies are, for lack of a better word, spying on your conversations, you can see why it is important to protect yourself. In the position I was in, my first question was “how can I make sure nobody can see my conversations?” Before you can properly protect yourself, you have to have a basic understand how the messages travel. In other words, you have to choose where you put better locks on your house to properly protect yourself or else you’ll be putting a deadbolt on your bathroom, leaving the rest of your house unprotected.
In my next post, I’ll be explaining how electronic communications travel, and what parts of the chain are under your control so that you can understand how to implement the right protections in the right places.