A few years ago, I found myself in the horrible position of having to tell a mother that her 12 y.o. daughter was posting pictures of herself in only a thong on Instagram. I knew this because I saw them, even though I wasn’t a follower of said child. The mother’s response was to accuse me of hacking her daughter’s account because there was no way the child would have set it to public.
The news of the past few weeks about the Russians hacking our election sounds eerily similar. From the left calling for the Electoral College to postpone their voting until an investigation is done to the right claiming Obama was the one who hacked the DNC server, few are talking about the real issues here — that few Americans truly understand how their behaviors on the network really function and that individuals are the ones responsible for their personal online content.
Thus there are two networks that need securing here. First are the computer networks, which requires an understanding of the technology in order to take the measures appropriate to secure the machines as well as the messages, and second your own neural network, living inside of your head, that needs to actually think first before it posts, sends that email, or communicates in any way on the internet.
“But hacking is illegal…” Of course it is, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Speeding is illegal too and until every message sent over the network is capable of being monitored by an AI of vast computational magnitude, one should assume that hacking will happen. There’s tons of information out there about how to secure your networks, and both Hillary Clinton and the DNC are perfect examples of how not to do it. The SOS should NOT use a personal email server to send work related emails and honestly, neither should you. Work emails should be done on your work computer that ideally resides on a highly secured network behind a firewall. Personal emails can rely on the security of Google, Yahoo, etc. if you wish, but trust me, everyone is watching you there, from the service provider to the NSA (who can ask for your data without a subpoena) to the bored high school hacker who’s out to have a good time proving how stupid you are, to yes, other governments. The internet is global, so anyone can tap in. Listen, unless you’re encrypting everything on your computer using Tor, (for those of you who are inclined see: https://www.torproject.org/) you should assume that what you put out there and store on your devices is for all to see.
So yes, the SOS and the DNC should have protected their servers to the max, and they didn’t. Other servers that need the highest of security in the political process are all computers that count votes and store voter registration information. Conducting an investigation to see if any of those nodes were hacked is important, but I don’t see that being called for.
Hmm, I wonder why not?
Conspiracies aside, I suggest that everyone pick up a copy of, “Networking for Dummies” and read up on it. NOW. Basically your computer/smartphone sends and receives packets of information. This packet has a header that identifies who you are, and some data, like an email message or a picture, as well as something to identify who the message should go to. Hackers do two key things to mess with the process; they intercept that message and read/copy it, or they insert data into messages, like viruses, and send it to you, often to gain access to what is stored on the device, like your nude photos or plans to take over the world. Regardless, they can crack most encryption, thus read your data, and they can also mess with the addressing mechanisms to hide their identity.
Sometimes you just can’t play online. For example, many famous authors aren’t allowed to write their manuscripts on networked computers. No wireless cards are even installed. They print off the final copy and hand deliver it to their editors who then scan it in to edit on a non-networked computer. Their printing computers are on a closed network. This is all necessary because hacking the next J.K. Rowling screenplay is a great coup if you can pull it off.
Thus, hackers are jerks and yet like STD’s, you need to protect your computer networks if you want to play online and if you don’t, it’s your own damn fault.
Which leads me to the second network that needs securing: YOUR BRAIN! This remarkable organ, just like a device on the network, both sends and receives data. You don’t have to put anything on the internet, nor do you have to believe anything you read, but you are responsible for both what you offer up and what you do with the information you absorb. This is your responsibility and yours alone. Complaining that Russia was responsible for the way voters reacted to the revelations from the DNC servers is like complaining that a college admissions officer had no right to revoke his/her offer to you after seeing your racial Tweets or a picture of you peeing on an unconscious person in your public Instagram feed.
Did Russia hack the poorly protected DNC servers? Perhaps. Did they force DNC staffers to email each other about their plans to use media outlets friendly to HRC to publish articles to discredit Bernie Sanders, another Democratic candidate, in order to manipulate the thoughts of the primary voters? No. Did the hackers write the emails that suggested they use those same contacts in the media to prop up “pied piper” candidates like Trump and Cruz in order to influence the Republican primary voters to select a weaker candidate? No. The hackers sent those emails to WikiLeaks who made them public. From there it was up to the public to decide whether or not to let this revelation determine their vote.
Thus, in this age of hacking as well as blaming others for any fallout that you might have caused online, I think we all need to take a step back and protect the most important neural network — our minds. We can do this in two important ways. First, we can protect what we send out onto the internet by thinking first and behaving well. Not sure what that is anymore? Check out the 10 Commandments, or the 8 Fold Path, or even the Golden Rule. If you post unto others what you’d like done to you, then you’re already in a good place. If you write an email about how weak your boss is at his job and he finds out, well, then, I told you so.
Second, we can protect our neural network from the data it receives on the internet by sharpening our logic and discernment. If what we read scares us or incites anger, lust or other such passionate responses, then we should be wary and set the article, email, or post aside. Take a breath. Take a bath. Then read it with a critical mind. Doubt it even more if it resonates strongly with those negative emotions. Research it further before you accept it as valid information for you to use to make a decision.
For example, perhaps the revelations that the DNC effectively manipulated both the Democratic and Republican primaries via their friendly media contacts leads you to vote for someone other than the Democratic candidate. That’s your choice. You might think this is just how the game is played and they played to win and not be bothered at all. That’s also your choice. Perhaps you read on Reddit that the Podesta emails are the smoking gun proof of a Hillary Clinton child-abuse ring and you’re going to arm yourself and take matters into your own hands and investigate it. Or maybe you read that and decide it's crap. It’s your choice on how to act and no censorship law will protect you from your own behavior.
You’re the one responsible for what you do with all the data you send and receive online and it’s up to you to protect your brain, the original neural network, from being hacked.