- Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of Reputation.com, an online privacy and reputation management company. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Agenda Council on Internet Security and recipient of the WEF Technology Pioneer 2011 Award. The opinions expressed are his own. -
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has named cybersecurity one of the top five risks in the world. In its Global Risks 2011 report, the WEF’s Risk Response Network nominated cybersecurity alongside planetary risks posed by demography, resource scarcity, trepidation about globalization, and, of course, WMDs. This is heady stuff. Cybersecurity has officially gone prime time. This week in Davos, I’ll be moderating and contributing to panel sessions on this topic.
The timing could not be more ripe. Right now we are witnessing the convergence of multiple seismic risks to data integrity. Social networks capture and mine ever larger amounts of data about humans and companies, opting users into increasingly invasive data collection with little or no notice. Apps operating on social networks and smartphones continually pull data streams about friends, families, personal connections, contacts, geo-location, behavior, preferences, tastes, and health habits — even when these data streams are unrelated to the stated purpose of the applications.
We’ve seen search sites mine public data, semi-public data, purchased information that was supposedly private, and even scraped or stolen data, and aggregate them together for sale and resale on the open web, claiming cover of current law. To date, the Internet economy has been nearly perfectly stacked against individuals’ control over their data. The proliferation of deep digital information about every individual on earth, along with the correlated explosion of its easy and unwitting accessibility by third parties, poses a “personal WikiLeaks” threat to each of us.
That brings us to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, which is itself the subject of at least one session at Davos this year. Reviled by some and relished by others, WikiLeaks represents either “radical transparency” or “radical invasion,” depending on your point of view. A large and growing raft of self-described “whistleblower safe harbors” pervade the Web, enabling and encouraging publication of confidential information that is difficult to authenticate as true or false. I suppose I was nonplussed by the bulk of the content published on WikiLeaks about American foreign policy — I think it’s fairly awesome that the United States is secretly saying pretty much the same exact things it says publicly.