Saturday, November 22, 2008

Data Mining Moves from Big Brother to Baby Brother


In the past we only had reason to fear Big Brother tools from intrusive government spy agencies and monster telco's that invade your privacy by digging into your past and eavesdropping on your digital lifestream with hugely expensive tools and massive databases.

Now we all have reason to fear what might be called "Baby Brother" as more powerful tools are becoming available for free to any script kiddy hacker or truly junior bad guys and mischief makers. New open source snooping software is now available to anyone to easily mine your data and invade your personal, financial and medical privacy.

A Forbes Magazine article published Friday titled, "When Everyone Can Mine Your Data" profiles a former hacker, who is a South African electronic engineer by trade. Roelof Temmingh has created a company around new open source software he developed named "Maltego". He's built a $430 software tool which mines all publicly available databases for data on anyone.

Temmingh has begun selling his snoop software to government agencies for a 10% discount. Clearly he is going the route nobody needs to go with governments, which, rather than use a watered down open source version for free will choose the Gold Plated version that could easily cost a hundred times more.

The point here is that data mining software is becoming available as open source, meaning bad guys will bolt on suddenly available free open source plug-in tools for identity theft and Private Investigators will bolt on the open source PI plug-ins and governments will build their own versions based on the code base that anyone can use and keep those to themselves for whatever invasive purpose they can come up with.

Data mining is definitely here for the masses - but mostly for masses of troublemakers and bad guys.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Private Eye Says Privacy is Dead


This C-Net news article focuses on how simple it is - through social networks, cell phone tracking, security cameras, credit card records, etc. - to learn almost anything about someone being researched or investigated.

I'm actually quite surprised how few TV cop shows or movies about crime solving detectives go into using the web, even though they do quite often show bad guys using technology to hack into places they don't belong and either make their criminal activity easier or to research or commit actual crimes. I always cheer the good guys in their use of the web to solve crimes and stop criminal activity because I'm a technology enthusiast and love that it can be used for good.

Maybe there are just so many times you can show someone tapping away at keyboards and staring at slick user interfaces before television or movie viewers tire of the scene or those inevitably geeky characters doing the typing.

But the point here is not that good-guy/ bad-guy drama of crime-fighting - but how easy it is to access data once it is digitally stored and/or distributed. The ease of access issue is the concern.

We've repeatedly heard the line from data miners and law enforcement that goes something like, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." That is a truism that can't be denied.

The problem for all of us comes when erroneous data or erroneous conclusions are drawn from innocent or incorrect data. The problem comes when that ease of access to data lets bad guys use technology and the web to commit a multitude of crimes.

The problem comes when data is treated with less care than it deserves by those entrusted with it and is either stolen, lost, hacked or otherwise abused due to neglect or bad policy. The problem comes when the public fails to understand how widely distributed their private data can become when posted to the web or sent digitally to anyone, anywhere.

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