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The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Social media gone wild: International security expert hosts Internet and social media crash course

When Edward Snowden exposed the disturbing extent to which our Internet privacy is abused by the NSA, the CIA and American corporations monitoring our every mouse click, a salvo of epithets were heaped upon him, including “traitor,” “hero,” “rat,” and “patriot.”

Freshman Rachel Hinton, a double major in political science and journalism, said Snowden is going to go down as an important figure in American history.

“I sit at caf’ÛΩs almost every day, even on campus, and use Wi-Fi and Internet,” Hinton said. “This is a very real threat because I can’t trust all the people sitting around me to be good people. Once they hack into your database they can do everything-disrupt your whole digital life.”

The debate rages on since Snowden fled America to seek refuge in Moscow as to whether our Internet privacy is being exploited or is a necessary security provision in these times of digital espionage and global terrorism. But the fact remains that the Internet is a wild place, with unregulated desperados looking to rip off credit card numbers and mess with your Facebook account.

On Friday in DePaul’s Daley Center in the Loop, a crash course in Internet security was held by the Reporters Without Borders group featuring two European international Internet security professionals on their first Chicago tour.

“Think nuclear power plants melting down, missile silos launching in concert and bank accounts being drained by ghosts; digital ghosts,” Stephane Koch, an international expert of information securities and social media security from Geneva, said. “But also think of your Facebook account getting hacked and someone uploading every picture you’ve ever taken onto your account. Even the ones you don’t want seen.”

Koch, a tall slender man, who tours the world bringing social media danger awareness to users through the Reporters Without Borders organization, lectured in his heavy French accent for four hours on the meticulous art of hacking and how to protect yourself from being a victim.

Koch said from a single photograph’s data content, a hacker slides through your network and accesses the location of where the photo was taken, and by the digital footprint of it, finds your home address and anyone else in your contacts.

“They can glean access through a wireless keyboard or mouse,” Koch said. “Just that little bit of data being sent from the mouse to the computer is enough for them to slip through and hack your entire computer.”

This is especially dangerous for younger social media users who upload thousands of data worth of content daily, unbeknownst to the dangers of it. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and many others are vulnerable to backdoor Trojan Horse viruses, that, like the Trojan Horse, present themselves as harmless gifts, and subsequently lay siege to your content.

“I’ve worked many years in social media security and I’ve seen people’s lives ruined by social media hackers,” Koch said. “They can access every photo in your library, even the deleted photos because the data still exists, and put pornography on your Facebook account, alter your emails and texts message. Complete digital warfare.”

Kara Charlton came to learn about the dangers of using simple, everyday social media like Facebook and Twitter.

“I don’t like the idea that Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat and all the rest automatically activate data sharing,” Charlton said. “I didn’t realize how exposed we were. Just using one app, someone can get access to my home address and all my contacts. That’s scary.”

Koch said what we trade for free media services is far more valuable than money. We give a peep show of our entire Internet habits, and indirectly, all our contacts in our phones.

“People really don’t understand how much control they give to their digital devices,” Koch said. “These younger generations think they are liberated. They’re not. They’re enslaved by their technology. They think they are telling it what to do, but it’s telling them what to do.”

Corporations monitor behavior on mass scales to identify trends and how to attack with user specific advertising.

Adjunct journalism professor Amy Merrick, who works as a freelance reporter for The New Yorker and has past experience at The Wall Street Journal, said she recommended the seminar to her students.

“This kind of knowledge is so important now especially in light of the Heartbleed bug that just went viral this week,” Merrick said. “It’s scary because it’s a flaw in the Internet that we previously thought was so secure.”

Merrick said she was embarrassed of her careless Internet usage and went to the seminar to learn how to protect herself, especially as a reporter with the privacy of her sources of utmost importance.

“We use the Internet for everything now,” Merrick said. “I always felt paranoid with using the Internet and from what I’ve learned today I feel my paranoia is much more justified.”

The Heartbleed bug rampaged this past week by subverting Facebook messenger data and other social media like Twitter and Google + to rip off credit card numbers, passwords and secretly infiltrate photo libraries.

“This kind of Internet threat is especially dangerous to teenagers,” Koch said. “Predators can check all their photos and find out their home address, even the room in the house from which the computer is being used. All in seconds.”

Jason Martin, professor of journalism and media law expert, said it’s very important for journalists to consider the ethics of protecting their sources, especially in hostile countries like Syria and Iran where sources can be arrested without due process of law from government hacking.

Furthermore, everyday Internet users are unaware that their large-scale behavior is being so closely monitored, according to Martin.

“Almost everybody on campus is using Facebook,” Martin says. “There are third party apps on Facebook and companies can get everything from you through those.”

Martin said private companies use those backdoor apps invasively to get all your consumer behavior, your Web browsing behavior and the interactions you have with your friends.

“They can key it down to the friends you talk to the most,” Martin said. “They can get the word you say most often.”

Merrick said she is going to take simple precautions like 2-step identification passwords, where a password is entered and then a confirmation is sent to a second mobile device to ensure privacy.

Hinton learned from the seminar how to encrypt her files and put up a simple firewall for her Mac.

“I feel safer now that I know how simple it is to go from being vulnerable to being safe,” Hinton said.

Delphine Halgand, Washington, D.C. director for Reporters Without Borders and former business reporter for Le Monde in France, said the U.S. is a pioneer in Internet privacy and protection for journalists.

“If the journalist cannot assure the protection of his source, he will be unable to lead a serious investigation,” Halgand said. “It’s like Watergate. If ‘Deep Throat’ could not have been assured protection, he could not have informed journalist Bob Woodward of the scandal. But he was protected, and from that came the impeachment of a president.”

Halgand said the U.S. has done much with shield laws, which allow journalists to protect their sources and is a fundamental part of reporting.

Halgand said Reporters Without Borders does much more than protect journalists; they are dedicated to protecting Internet users from espionage.

“In light of the recent Heartbleed bug and how that made credit card numbers and passwords vulnerable, you (users) have to understand, you have to protect yourself online just as you would offline.”

Professors Merrick and Martin said it’s scary how much we need to rely on the Internet in our lives now. It’s mutated into this progeny that we don’t understand anymore.

Koch said it’s important to retain paranoia and be defensive about Internet use now.

“It’s like in the physical world: Would you give someone your credit card and pictures and passwords?” Koch said. “No, and it’s this under evolved behavior online that results in identify theft and drained bank accounts and private pictures being exposed virally.”

Koch said if you’ve used a computer even once, there is more data on you than you’d ever imagine.

“Your digital footprints are all over the place,” Koch said.

So is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor or some disturbed soul looking for attention?

“Snowden is the whistleblower who provided information to journalists (Glen Greenwald of The Guardian and Laura Poitras, a film documentary maker and recent target of the government) which was published for all the public to see,” Halgand said. “Snowden violated his contract with the companies, but in doing so, he exposed the extent of privacy invasion exercised by the government and corporations.”

Snowden might be a controversial figure, but he shed light on dark chambers of hacking and Internet privacy.

“I don’t want to get you all paranoid and upset,” Koch said to the 25 people in the audience Friday. “But anytime you use the Internet, you are being watched by someone.”

“You leave digital footprints,” Koch said. “And they leave a trail that goes right back to you.”

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