Beware – Governments Are All Over Your Data, Expert Warns

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Governments “are doing a lousy job” when it comes to educating about online data collection, says F-Secure expert

A security specialist has warned that government monitoring and the collection of people’s online data is reaching record levels.

Erka Koivunen, a cyber security advisor at F-Secure, took part in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) interview on Reddit to mark Data Protection Day, revealing his awareness of government monitoring programs and offering advice to users worried about their data being snooped on.

Lousy

security ssh secure package data © grynold Shutterstock“Governments have a responsibility to provide us a safe and secure environment,” Koivunen noted.

“Most of us would be terrified to know what kind of loonies and extremists walk amongst us. It is only natural that LE and counter terrorism folks want tools to not only track dangerous individuals, groups and other entities but to also identify and anticipate them.”

However, he believes that governments are falling short when it comes to ensuring that the data from their citizens really is collected and disposed of securely.

“In my mind, the governments are doing a lousy job calculating the true costs (both in terms of monetary terms and societal effects) of forcing everybody and their cousins to collect, retain and disclose to authorities all this digital evidence,” he says.

“It is easy to demand unreasonable things when somebody else pays the bill. Hardly a “right to be forgotten” mentality, is it?”

Private

hpIn terms of advice, Koivunen said that everyone has the ability to protect themselves online, noting that, “…good security and reasonable levels of privacy do not require big investments in terms of money.”

“The biggest investment is in terms on personal time: good privacy means good operational security posture,” he noted. Surf “incognito” and shy away from active content, cookies and anything that tracks you. Hide your tracks. Limit your damage by e.g. choosing individualized passwords. Spread up your online presence by setting multiple an non-linked accounts to the services you use.”

The UK was named as “pretty bad” by Koivunen as opposed to other nations in Europe, with France and Germany also highlighted as going beyond many of the usual boundaries.

When asked about his advice to people who still wanted security and privacy should the UK government go ahead with the Investigatory Powers Bill, Koivunen urged a need for action, telling the user to, “Contact your MP. Now! And let them know about your thoughts throughout this spring.”

Ultimately, Koivunen revealed two predictions for the future of government data collection, one ‘positive’ and one ‘more pragmatic’.

The former would see the average person’s access to cyber security protections provided through the use of strong cryptography. Noting that the technology, “has never (been) this good in the history of mankind”, Koivunen notes that, “there is a strong civil rights sentiment in political circles that pushes for privacy protections and freedom to use good crypto…Governments cannot ban mathematics nor innovation.”

However his other prediction sees intelligence and law enforcement communities correcting the ‘anomaly’ of the present situation, where secure electronic communication (described as “a valuable source of information all the way from the beginning of ages”) is often provided by non-telecommunications providers.

“Nobody can get away from network tapping but everybody can influence how much data their devices leak and send out over the wire,” he notes, “Whatever you do, please have realistic view of what is your digital footprint. That determines who you have to trust, regardless of whether you want to.”

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