Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act and your privacy

Since the first computer virus in 1989, the US government has been struggling to keep up with the rapidly evolving world of cybersecurity. Hackers use constantly evolving methods while Congress sluggishly passes inefficient measures against these hackers. Over the past 30 or so years, multiple bills have been put in place to battle this misuse of technology. The most recent bill is the CISA.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed in the Senate in Oct. with a whopping vote of 74-21. This bills main purpose is to help prevent data breaches like the famous Office of Personnel Managements breach that exposed the personal data of more than 20 million current and former federal employees.

CISA aims to do this by offering legal protection to companies who opt in, enabling these companies to share information without the risk of legal repercussion. In theory, when a company is attacked, the federal government is alerted immediately and the warning is distributed to all companies taking part in CISA.

Why does this need to go through Congress?

CISA eliminates a company’s liability, thus, protecting them from lawsuits for sharing too much information.

Some privacy advocates however have major concerns regarding CISA. Several senators took heed of these warnings and proposed amendments to the bill, such as requiring companies to remove personal data from any information before sharing. Ultimately, all of the proposed amendments were shut down and the bill was passed without any of the privacy reforms.

Privacy advocates also aren’t sure how much the bill will even promote data sharing to mitigate attacks. This is based on the argument that data sharing is already taking place among many companies and introducing the government has not historically improved matters. Ben Johnson, Chief Security Strategist is quoted saying in a Forbes article:

“While cyber defense, security and safety should be a top national priority, the time the federal government continues to spend on CISA demonstrates that’s not the case. Threat intelligence is already being shared bountifully. It is the processing of that information, the application of that information, the operationalizing [sic] of that information, and finally the incorporation of that information into an overarching cyber strategy and risk mitigation platform that is sorely lacking. Threat intelligence sharing is not the problem.”

CISA is also criticized for lacking clarity – the bill does not specifically define just how the information will be shared or managed. Nowhere in the bill does it disallow shared information from being used outside the scope of cybercrime investigations. On the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, passing a bill that allows the NSA to gather personal information even easier, could be seen as ironic.

For those of you unfamiliar with Edward Snowden, Snowden revealed thousands of documents exposing the US governments vast reach of information gathering. Ex-NSA contractor Snowden is currently hiding in Russia and according to this CNN article, he criticizes CISA, commenting that the FBI and NSA already collect this kind of hacking data all over the internet, but CISA would allow them to collect even more directly from companies.

Recap

This bill may have good intentions, but due to its vagueness, it can be very costly and may cause problems. Some view it as progress but many view it as just another infraction on our right to privacy. Currently, CISA has only made it through the Senate and now must be combined with several other cyber security bills at the House and finally, the President must sign off on it. However, the Obama Administration has already made it clear that they support the bill.

Your Information is For Sale

Big data is a booming business in today’s world. With companies wanting more information about consumers, and data analytics becoming easier for large companies, you might want to be informed of what information they are gathering.

So, where is all this information collected from?

You. Whenever you purchase something from almost any store, your information is collected. It may not be surprising that stores keep a record of what you buy, but it is noteworthy that these stores are all more than willing to sell your information to big data collectors like Datalogix.

Is any of my data private?

There are some limits on what can and cannot be sold. Unfortunately, this list of restrictions are not very long. Of course, medical data cannot be sold under HIPAA regulations. Other information, such as anything that may have to do with your credit score is also somewhat prohibited from selling or purchasing under the Fair Credit Act. These restrictions however, are fairly loose.

Finding out that you have a medical condition is not very difficult for these big data companies. For example, if you search online for allergy medicine or home remedies for back pains, your search data is collected and then sold to these companies. In fact, some health insurance are purchasing data to predict future medical conditions based on purchases such as plus-sized clothing.

Target gives us an example of data analytics gone wrong. According to an article featured in Forbes, Target knew that a young girl was pregnant before her parents knew. Target began sending the girl coupons for baby clothes and cribs and the father confronted Target thinking that they were encouraging her teenage daughter to get pregnant. After speaking with his daughter, he found out that she was in fact pregnant and Target’s algorithms had picked this up and began targeting the girl.

After this scandal, Target changed the way they targeted consumers.

A Target executive is quoted in the New York Times saying, “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance. And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

The largest asset to data collection companies is social media.

Facebook recently purchased a patent from Friendster, a company that created algorithms from big data collections. In this case, Facebook can now determine your credit score based on your online friends. While the Fair Credit Opportunity Act prohibits certain ways to determine how an individual can get a loan, this algorithm may be used to decide on people who are borderline to begin with.

Would it make you feel better to know that you can find out what information they know about you and have them delete it?

Well, that’s not possible, at least not yet. Some companies that collect data will tell you what data they have about you, but often this is not the full report. There is usually a fee and it’s not one single company you would have to request the information from. There is an option to opt-out of this as well, but taking the time to track down all of the data brokers may take quite a bit of time.

Are you using Windows 10?

Windows 10 by default includes Cortana Digital Assistant. This includes access to all your personal information as well as sending your searches to Bing to improve future results and ads. This is data collection, so as long as you are fine with Microsoft building a database about you and predicting what food you like, what ads you want to see, as well as a host of other personal information, don’t worry about any of this.

For those with Windows 10, a quick Google search will lead to instructions to disable Cortana from collecting data. This is not just Microsoft. Google, Apple and most of your favorite stores also use your information for their own gain.