Last week, WikiLeaks released thousands of secret government documents, mostly of the US government. For the uninitiated, WikiLeaks is a news website that was started by Julian Assange. They hack into computer systems to retrieve secret documents and publish them on their website. It seems the aim to encourage openness and more accountability by governments. As expected, media institutions are fond of such an initiative as it provides a source of material they could use for reporting.
I checked the website few months ago to ascertain that they have not leaked any information about me. I was both excited and disappointed at the outcome. Excited that they have not managed to hack into my electronic storage system that is secured by the PMX encryption that was developed by a good friend I shall call Mthokozisi Cele, mostly because that is his name. I was disappointed that Julian Assange does not see as important to assign his people to hack into my files.
Besides a report about competition on the banking industry in South Africa, there was not much material origination from South Africa as I checked few months ago.
The release of the recent documents about the intelligence gathering in Zimbabwe and many other issues has got me thinking about a few things.
As The Guardian‘s Simon Jenkins has reportedly opined, “No organization can treat digitized communication as confidential. An electronic secret is a contradiction in terms.” The web is littered with a plethora of text expressing similar sentiment and the accompanying suggestions to electronic security. Obviously, my view is limited to individuals, not governments. Even those who are not paranoid often believe some of their files are private or secret, such as emails or inbox messages across social networks. How secure is all that data?
In the past 3 months, I have had 2 friends forget their laptop passwords for logging into windows. They called me to seek guidance and I advised them to take their laptops to a friend I mentioned earlier in this text. Under such circumstances, you would normally need to wipe out all the information on the laptop because it is protected by the password that you forgot. However, to my surprise, my friend told me he was able to enter Windows XP and Vista from the back window and deleted the password that the user had forgotten. Obviously the laptop owners were pleased that their information was not lost. You would be pleased to know that the browser you use to visit social networks often keep some of the information about your access details. The rest is implicit in this paragraph.
In my previous blog post here, I remarked about the footprints that one leaves with all the electronic content they are generating online. One of the things related to that which you need not worry about but may be a food for thought is what happens to all your data when you die, having kept your password secret all the time. Yes, I said no need to worry about it, you’d be dead anyway. It will matter less.
The question then could be, how are secret supposed to be kept. If email is not secure, calls are intercepted, sms are intercepted, your computer/laptop password may be wiped, the courier service can be hijacked, the mail can be stolen at post office and so on, what channels of communication would you use. But then individuals don’t have that depth of secrets, unless they are involved in something worth hiding that much. Besides, who goes around listening to people’s calls and for what?
Since you are an individual and have nothing to hide, you have no need to worry that “An electronic secret is a contridiction in terms”