Beyond Snowden: How Government Corrupts Business

by Sam Peters on July 9, 2016

It seems we have been living with the Snowden revelations forever. But in truth, he has only been a household name since mid-2013. There was so much news released that it quickly became information overload. There was too much information to fully process any one piece of it. The takeaways from the information dumps can be summed up in the following manner:

  • The government is spying on its own people
  • Everything you do on your cell phone is being monitored in some way
  • Private businesses are colluding with the government to erode your civil liberties

Everyone kind of suspected the government was spying on them. And they knew that cellphone data could be monitored. But they were surprised and offended that the companies with which they were doing business were actively selling them out.

The level to which the government has subverted private industry is still news. The more we learn about what the government is doing in the name of security, the less security we feel like we have. Here are two examples:

The Government Compromises Your Protection

Never mind China and Russia. One of the biggest malware threats U.S. citizens face is from the U.S. government. For years, we’ve known that various governmental agencies attend black hat conferences. We also know that they hire some of the best hackers. Now we know what they are doing with all of that black hat talent. They are making and releasing malware. While we know about some of the malware offensives against other governments, there is no reason to believe that some of that malware isn’t used against U.S. citizens.

For these reasons, the government wants your computer to be as insecure as possible. Spiking the security punch your computer is drinking is one of the ways they can lull you into believing that you are secure when you really are not.

When your system is breached, sometimes the only thing you can do is wipe all the data and make a clean start. Before you can do that, you need to be sure to have a secure backup of your data. That means you will have to have some type of data loss prevention plan for such an eventuality. A plan is necessary due to risk factors such as:

  • Rapidly evolving compliance regulations and mandates
  • Continued growth of workforce mobility
  • Employees using their own mobile devices and consumer apps for work
  • Rising frequency of advanced persistent threats (APTs) and data breach incidents

The Government Causes Businesses to Compromise Core Values

Blackberry is in the news again, and it is not good for Blackberry fans. Blackberry CEO, John Chen, speaks on the great encryption debate and where BlackBerry stands on it all. What he is saying is proving worrisome to many longtime Blackberry fans.

Blackberry still has a lot of government contracts. And Blackberry’s only stronghold is mobile security. The conflict of interest becomes apparent when one hears what every branch of the government in almost every country is saying. Right now, especially in the U.S., there is a war on strong encryption on consumer devices. The government is demanding backdoors, and wants access to consumer communications upon request.

For his part, Apple’s Tim Cook has drawn a hard line when it comes to cooperating with such requests. He has publicly stated that Apple cannot comply with such requests because they have engineered its solutions so that Apple holds no keys, and cannot comply with such requests. They are in the business of privacy.

On the other hand, Blackberry’s John Chen is promising cooperation. He is not promising a backdoor. But he is taking a pro-government stance which seems geared toward protecting existing ties with government entities. Blackberry is not necessarily doing anything wrong. But it is a strange day when a consumer company defies the government in the name of security, while the security company defies security in the name of the government.

We have seen some disturbing examples of how the government is becoming more emboldened when it comes to pressuring businesses to serve as an unofficial branch of the state. As a consumer, your best protection is to use products that have a proven track record of consumer protection and strong encryption, and keep a good set of backups just in case.

Ben Shull August 31, 2016 at 7:48 am

I reject your reality and substitute my own -Adam Savage

Why accept the “is this a Privacy” issue, and not a “Security” issue? We have the right to lock up all of our physical belongings from criminal theft and government seizure. Why is our intellectual property different? No, the government should not be able to force a civilian company/individual to break into my house/computer/car/email without a warrant.

How has this gotten so bad, that the Democratic National Committee’s, and Hillary’s computer systems have been compromised? Are the voting machines next? We must be able to have confidence in our election system. Without confidence that our votes are properly counted, how will the opposing side ever know they were beaten fair and square (Bush/Gore anyone)?

This rationalizing away security by taking security and breaking off a subset and calling it privacy is making the world a more dangerous place.

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