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The Digital You (Speech)

Mantas Vilčinskas

Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you deeply thought about the things you do online? About your internet persona that you have created over the months & years? In the world of swatting, political attacks, targeted advertising, massive surveillance, and cyber wars, our digital lives are intertwining with the physical world at a faster pace than most realize, causing problems we haven’t even considered up to this point. Today, I’ll talk about “The Digital You”, the worries of tomorrow, and what you can do to be more aware of our newly founded world.

Another question: have you used Snapchat filters? I bet you have and I bet what you didn’t think about is how Snapchat tracks your face. Thanks to Augmented Reality, your environment is overlaid with new computer-generated information on top, with images or video. It’s a superb idea. The reason I bring this up is because, the industry of this technology is quickly expanding and with due time it might become something we are accustomed to. Many promising ventures such as these are entering the mainstream which means that, perhaps, the Internet will even become a place that you can travel to with your avatar, like in sci-fi. But before we can make predictions like that, we need to fix another huge problem hiding in plain sight. News along the lines of “143 million customers’ data stolen” typically do not get the attention they deserve. With the case of Equifax in the US, Our ever growing reliance on the Internet is PETRIFYING because the possibility of being “hacked” is real. The focus is large companies but you rely on these organizations to keep personal information safe…

Still with me? Just to make things more clear, let’s say that you are a certain mister John. You have an email, Facebook, and online banking. You use one password for all these services — banana56. Or it could be your birthday — 20011212. Both of those passwords are short and easy to remember, but when you sign up for a shady website, later down the line you find out you’re one of 9,313,136 people affected in that site’s data breach.

“Have I been pwned”, spelled much like owned, lets you check if your email address was found in a data breach. The web service is run for free by security researcher Troy Hunt. I first learned about his work after being affected by a data breach myself. And you might be, too. As devastating as this may sound, there is something you can do.

First: multiple factor login (or two step verification / factor authentication). Do these words mean anything to you? Here’s how multiple factor logins work: after entering your password as usual, you will be asked to enter a random code sent to an authenticator device, like a phone. Only then are you given access. This is an easy to set up and sufficiently effective protection you can take but this only makes logging in more tedious: what if you lose your phone?

The bad news is that the only other way to protect yourself is by using unique passwords on each site you visit. And for people with hundreds of signups, that’s not an easy task. With a password manager such as LastPass you’ll only have to remember one long password, and keep a “vault” of your safe, long, and unique passwords. Then, you can just copy & paste these logins with a single click. But both of these protections have 2 problems: they are not common and are inconvenient.

In conclusion, I think we should all take a moment to reflect on what we do online. Change can be scary, but you can prepare for it. Leaders of tech companies, government officials, and those who dictate the trends of today & tomorrow will NOT do anything unless we take the first step and raise our awareness about these issues. Don’t let fate decide what’s best. The best future to live in, is the one, in which you feel safe.

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