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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

How cybersecurity affects You

One might think that a simple computer VPN would protect you from the big bad world of the internet, and that would be amazing… If it were true. VPNs or Virtual Private Networks are systems that encrypt your data to give it a layer of protection, much like putting on a jacket to ward off the cold: effective, to a certain extent.

What many people do not realize that cybersecurity goes far beyond data being stolen, it also extends to data being lost or corrupted due to malware, human error or intent and simple power outages.

Common Risks

For the common user, perhaps the worst that could happen is if one were to lose a ten-thousand-word assignment due tomorrow or the theft of personal information. However, if one made a livelihood through the internet by way of a blog or an online business, the costs incurred from data loss might be significant.

The problem with common preconceptions regarding cybersecurity is that, everyone has a different yardstick. There might be some things which seem benign to one, but malignant to others. Furthermore, the inconvenience associated with implementing security measures is a major turn off for many and also one thing to take into consideration when planning one’s online security.

How to Maintain Security?

In an attempt to keep up his cybersecurity, Nick Rosener, a data analyst, offers three main questions:

  • Where is your data stored and what data is available?
  • What are the risks to guard against?
  • What are the impacts of a privacy breach?

Upon addressing those questions as outlined by Homeland Security and American Institute of CPA’s, it helps keep one wary regarding one’s data, and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

One important aspect which is often overlooked are passwords. Many might ask themselves, ‘what are the odds of someone guessing this super complicated and personal password’ or ‘I cannot remember 250 passwords for all the applications and websites I’m on, so I’m just going to use one over all my platforms’. However, according to Rosener, using the same password over and over again has its risks as you are unaware of every website’s security measures. And when it turns out that the company did not encrypt its users data and have it stored “in plain text in their database”, the attacker can potentially attack you on your other accounts.

While it might be tedious, it does benefit users to have a rotation of passwords for easy remembrance or better yet, a different and complicated password for each and every website they have credentials on. Or, a simpler method is through employed a two or multi-factor authentication, whereby the hacker would require a special code sent to your phone in order to access your account. This also might take some time to set up and moreover, not every website or application provides this service.

However, it might be interesting to note that even a gaming platform – albeit a rather large one – that goes by Steam and used by many, also employs a two-factor authentication to assure its consumers that their accounts (and games) are secured.

Data Security

Now, you might feel as though your data is uninteresting and it is fine to be spied on, but do you really want an extra pair of eyes sifting through your every action on the internet? Afterall, the US government possesses surveillance powers that exceed imagination and could potentially draw up every single detail you have ever shared on the website, through a throwaway account or not. This makes most people nervous and therefore, more determined to hide their browsing history and clearing their cookies and cache but it is more than that.

Stolen or accumulated data are often stored away in banks, and even though one might feel it is safe, that the data is gone, this is a reminder that nothing on the internet ever fades. Unlike human memory, it will not forget.

Now, cybersecurity is an umbrella that not only shields yourself, but those around you. To elaborate, Josephine Wolff, who is “an assistant professor of public policy and computing security at Rochester Institute of Technology and a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society”, says that even if you think you have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear, “improving your computer security also benefits society at large. Even if your devices and communications contain absolutely nothing of any value to you or anyone else, they can still be used as weapons against others if compromised.”

The Scale of Attacks

For example, a virus your device contracted might play a part in a large-scale attack or your Facebook account might be breached and a bot might send out links containing malware or cons. Your computer might turn into one of a hacker’s many tools in an attack by hiding their identity and using yours to generate trust, among other things. The internet comes with a whole slew of malicious intentions, sometimes even extorting through the threat of public humiliation.

Hence, by protecting your communications over the internet, you are ultimately protecting others as well.

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