April 28, 2011

The Coming Meltdown of Cyberspace?

After the American Century

The sun may be shining brightly in the real world, but there are cloudy skies in cyberspace. At least once a month one hears about vast amounts of personal data, including codes that get one into bank accounts, being stolen from a server, or about a laptop being lost containing lots of sensitive information. Security is becoming a major problem, with identity theft on the rise and a black market in stolen credit card numbers.

I know, because my information was stolen last year, and one of my credit cards was used by someone in Florida for about a week before the bank realized it. (The good news is that almost all the money went back into my account, eventually.) 

But there are other problems, too, as every institution rushes to go on-line with as much as possible. I wrote a 30-page report a month ago as part of my work at the university, and then lost control over it, and could not even see it. The final editing was to take place on a new platform that was supposed to make it easier to nail down a final draft, as it let several people work on it in a common space. But I never could manage to open the document again, much less edit it, and I no longer feel that the document is mine. I send in specific changes for someone else to put in, but that is not the same as editing.

The problems of cyber-security and of retaining some rights over what one is writing, seem, to me at least, similar. The report has now passed into the control of well- meaning (really!) administrators. The money on that credit card passed into the control of an unknown cyber-thief. Obviously I can go and speak to the former but have no contact with the latter. But soon the report will move on into other realms of cyberspace, to be read, and perhaps edited again without my involvement. In this case, I am not much worried, but in other cases I might begin to feel that I had been robbed of my intellectual property. 

These are just clouds on the digital horizon, for now. But there seem to be more problems with a digital world than when it was mostly just a place to exchange emails.