Privacy and the Internet

Privacy and the Internet
Or why you shouldn’t email your secret recipes

The Internet has been around for so long now that people take it for granted, they also assume that it is based on things that it simply never has been nor is it likely to ever attain.

Firstly the Internet 1 is not email, web pages, file downloads and the like, it is the mechanism that allows data (i.e. information) to move from one place to another. The technology has lots of neat acronyms like TCP & UDP which simply translated means a way for packets of data to move from one place to another in such a way that the two ends don’t need a physical or logical fixed connection (path). Now the theory based people will say that I am incorrect that there is a logical connection but for us normal hoomans each piece of a web page (packet) that comes down onto our computer can travel via a different path from the previous one. The standard thing to say is that the web is stateless.

So the whole internet is basically just like the glorified connection of two computers over a Local Area Network (LAN) 2 just that the cable that runs between them can be across the room using a simple cable or around the world linked by who cares what, so long as the two ends can talk to each other reliably.

This transportation of your data is where the inherent privacy of the content becomes blindingly obvious. Every system between your computer and the destination can view the packet of information in full. In fact some of the contents must be read in order for that email, image or whatever to be sent successfully.

So the first thing to bear in mind with the Internet is that by default nothing you send/receive is private, in fact it is all available for anyone to see with almost no effort by the people in the chain handling the packets of data. Worse there are multiple ways that the traffic itself (in bulk) can be intercepted by various peoples and .. ahem .. agencies .. like .. ahem .. NSA (United States), ASIO (Australia) et al. So you should assume that everything you write/send no matter what is only private so long as no one is bothering to look.

Let me say that again possibly even more clearly. The Internet is not just a stateless packet switching network it is inherently insecure. There is no privacy at all, multiple unknown people can be reading all of your traffic. Your email is as secure as if you were posting it on the local community notice board or an advertisement in your local newspaper.

Seriously! Unless you are running your web browser with a site using https:// (ie SSL 3) then all of your web browsing is public knowledge, and unless you encrypt your emails they can be read simply by browsing the packets leaving your system. Even then those alphabet soup agencies and probably others are still able to decrypt your private messages.

The old question is “Can you keep a secret?” the answer being “Yes” and the response “So can I” obviously without sharing.

So using a computer, phone, tablet or other ‘Internet’ device is inherently not private for most people it probably is not an issue but if what you want to discuss is in any way confidential a computer and the Internet is probably not the right place for it to be stored.

More reading…

Privacy Victoria Australia :: It's Your Privacy. Don't Ignore It.

Green IT Consulting :: Do you have the right to online privacy?

[1] History of the Internet

[2] OSI Model information

[3] Transport Layer Security