Security Now contributor Simon Marshall recently sat down with Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at Washington, DC-based Thycotic, a privileged account security firm.
Carson holds a number of security certifications and he is a cybersecurity advisor to a several governments around the world. One of his interests is determining how personal privacy will change over the years as security needs change as well.
Simon Marshall for Security Now: You said recently that "privacy may be gone, but not forgotten," what do mean by that, and has privacy really had its day?
Joseph Carson: It's getting close. We're getting to the stage where real life is mimicking the movie The Circle, where everywhere you go now hackers are pretty much watching everything. You may think you're retaining a level of privacy, but someone near you is taking pictures of you, someone near you is scanning what networks and devices you're using. So even though you may decide yourself that you are private, it's actually the people around you that will determine your privacy.
SN: Do we still have some semblance of privacy? Is anything ultimately private?
JC: We've lost all control over the level of privacy we have, compared to the past. For example, you're using Alexa, and your voice is being recorded, you're being recorded by devices that have cameras, 24/7. So, the only area where privacy exists is what's in your thoughts and your own mind. Privacy is maintained by what's between your ears.
SN: Could we get to the point where this final boundary is broken?
JC: In the future, hackers won't just be looking at the data on your phone, they'll be reading your mind. The technology is available today to do that, so eventually even our thoughts won't be private any more. Now, you could decide in defense to run around wearing a tin foil hat, but you're more likely to develop a place in your home that's not just a hurricane shelter, it's a privacy shelter.
SN: This sounds like science fiction, but will brain-reading technology start appearing soon?
JC: Within five years, it'll become much more commonplace in the medical field and military settings. I've seen it used recently with patients who have no control over their physical body. The current challenge with this technology is cost and size. The smaller a device gets, the more difficult it is to get a clear resolution of brain energy, and the less accurate the process becomes. Sometimes devices can be connected directly to the brain to get the best picture of brain energy. But solving this problem will reduce cost and mean that the technology goes mainstream.
SN: Are we going to see people having their brains hacked?
JC: When you're using human biometrics to authenticate and provide secure control, if you can't change it, it can't be used as the only security control. If you can't change it or update it, it can only be a complementary control. Our visual identity and our digital footprint will eventually have most of the collective attributes of our biometrics and brain energy, because if someone, for example, takes a high-definition picture of your fingerprint, you just can't use it as a security control any more. If someone scans your brain, the "picture" is out there.
SN: Will we see the creation of "identities" which include voice, brain, fingerprint and facial recognition technologies working together?
JC: The more forms of identity you use, the more costly it is for a hacker to compromise them, that's for sure. I was surprised and a bit shocked when Apple launched the iPhoneX that they didn't complement the facial recognition on the front of the phone with a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. It's something they'll regret. Just because they couldn't make fingerprint recognition work on an OLED screen, they decided to get rid of it altogether.
SN: So users could have been authenticating through the phone -- using one hand --and strengthening their defense against identity spoofing at the same time. Do you see spoofing getting worse?
JC: We've lost trust in the Internet; is it a real person that I'm talking to on the other side, or is it someone or something else? So what's the new definition of trust? It's going to be a major topic going forward. For example, if you identify yourself with a trusted digital identity, you would be doing something similar to Twitter's Certified Trusted framework for identities on social media. We'll see that concept evolve into a much broader protection against spoofing.
SN: What about privacy as it applies to personal data that's stored at rest in the network? Is Encryption Everywhere the answer?
JC: Well, there are two competing ideas here. There are certain things that are going to get encrypted, without a doubt; your sensitive financial records, for example, are going to be encrypted both at rest and in transit. But with some personal information, why should it be encrypted? Take an email address, why should that be scrambled? It's an email address that's already out there. Your social security number? It's already public information. Once something becomes public knowledge, there's no need to encrypt it further.
One model for this is pioneered in Estonia, where low-grade personal information is made public, but people need permission to read it. If you want to change the information, you need to have permission to do so. It's a distributed data publisher model where, if you want to call me the number is not stored locally, it's accessed through the telco. You're only allowed to read it and use it, not store it. If I want my telephone number to be available to the world, then it's no longer stored in my Facebook repository, Facebook will have to read it from the telco, who will give them permission to read it.
SN: If data access is being provided in this way as a service, how does the process work?
JC: One idea that I'm working on is where a company can become a data broker of personal information. They would hold details like telephone number, home address or vehicle registration numbers that a person might want to make publicly available. So here, if Facebook wants to read my phone number, they need to approach the data broker. Then, if Facebook has a data breach, and my number is in the breach, that's when enforcement can come harshly down on them, because they are not meant to store it.
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— Simon Marshall, Technology Journalist, special to Security Now