A Security Concern – The Ghost in Your Machine

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This article was produced on behalf of ITHound.com: business technology white papers and article library.

If you think you’re safe in chat rooms, anonymous message boards or instant messaging programs, think again… There is an area of concern regarding internet privacy, which has little to do with the websites you visit.

Cyveillence is an internet monitoring company employed by a majority of Fortune 500 companies, governments and other companies to crawl web communications independently to pick up chatter as it relates to its clients. It acts almost like a literal ghost in the machine.

While some view this as a prudent business resource to help protect a company’s reputation or help warn of a pending boycott, others view Cyveillance’s and similar companies’ spiders as unwelcome intruders capable of mining data that would make even the CIA blush (unless they’re also a client).

There are obvious national and corporate security benefits of such technology, legally blurry though they may be.

While Cyveillence doesn’t disclose their individual client roster, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is said to use the company to monitor illegal music downloads and protect against copyright infringement. The company sends out its bots to snap a picture of your media files then turns them over to the RIAA so they can determine how you got that David Hasselhoff download. Besides the embarrassment of having The Hoff in your media library, that potentially opens the door for criminal prosecution if it’s determined you were “sharing” the joys of ‘Jump in My Car’.

If you think any paranoia induced by this technology only applies to terrorists and large criminal syndicates, you’re mistaken… In 2009, a federal jury fined a 32-year old single mother of two from Minnesota $1.9 million for illegally downloading 24 songs. Retail value: Approximately $23.76! Of course everyone deserves to get paid (at $80,000 per download, someone’s getting paid pretty well), and piracy is illegal, but can this remotely be called a large criminal enterprise? An anytown mum trying to save a few bucks.

Engaging in illegal activity, no matter how small, will obviously bring negative consequences if some electronic Eye of Mordor happens to shine your way. But somehow, the possibility that a private IM conversation with a friend about your boss could show up on their desk in a report, seems a little more wrong. However, that’s the double-edged sword forged by technological advancement.

On the one hand, it allows you to stay connected from just about anywhere in the world and has the potential to let you conduct all of your business from a remote location, but on the other hand, ‘Big Brother’ also has the potential to monitor everything you say and do. As recent revelations about the location and data storage on the iPhone has proved…

Exercising prudent internet awareness is always good advice. And if The Hoff’s crooning is truly a must-have guilty pleasure, go ahead and shell out the 99 cents to be able to enjoy it guilt-free. Minnesota Mom aside, we haven’t reached total Orwellian territory quite yet.

But just to be safe, the next time you get upset with your boss for requesting a last-minute report revision that ruins your weekend, put pen to paper and write a note to unleash your frustrations rather than blabbing about his or her managerial shortcomings on Facebook chat. Just remember to burn the note after your buddies have read it.

Comments (2)

  1. 1984 was a long time ago. We’re not in Kansas, anymore. We live in a world that Orwell could not have imagined. Most people just don’t realise it yet – and why would they care about the fact they know less than 1% about th true functionality of their gadgets…until, of course, they are given a reason to care.

    And with a world of billions living on or around the poverty line; hungry minds and ever-increasing access to powerful, cheap (or free) technology…rest assured, people will be given a reason to care – at some point.

    The point…when it’s too late, of course.

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