Connectivity: The Bridge of Spies

Connectivity promises much – much convenience, much saving, much service. All good. But a connected home is a vulnerable home, vulnerable to privateer hackers after plain mischief or your credit card details, and state-sponsored hackers after goodness knows what in the name of security.

Governments around the world have wrangled with civil rights advocates and tech companies about the rights the state should have to eavesdrop on citizens and how many legal hoops should be jumped through before they can just break in without asking.

That’s what happens ‘above the line’, to borrow an old advertising term, in the light. Meanwhile, below the line, in the dark, the spooks do anything and everything they can get away with. The only rule of espionage – by whoever, wherever, – is don’t get caught. But in a perpetual worldwide game of hacking Top Trumps, not getting caught is proving way beyond the pay-grade of civil service security experts.

So, it turns out (courtesy of Wikileaks), the CIA has systematically broken into all available devices, including – with the help of the UK – listening in on what Samsung Smart TVs hear in living rooms around the world.

The device makers compromised is a who’s who of all the blue chips; companies that take a lot of trouble and some pride in their security. As we hook up our fridges, kettles, toasters, toothbrushes to the net just imagine how much the makers will spend on their chips and security protocols. Spooks and scammers will have one big electronic field day. The old saying is ‘walls have ears’ – well, if you’ve hung a TV on it that’s true, but then so will every other powered device you possess.

If you have a digital life – and who can avoid it – ‘they’ will rummage through it more or less at will, occasionally chastened by getting caught because their own security isn’t good enough. Regulation only works if its targets are prepared to be regulated and scammers and our security services are not.

The only private world is an unplugged world, but everyone is conditioned – addicted even – to connectivity, and no one is going to go cold turkey. And with each passing abuse, the currency of scandal gets less. We may protest, but intuitively we know we have already traded our privacy for the prize.

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