Guest Post: Coming to terms with the internet age

Just like our caveman bodies are still learning to cope with a 21st Century diet, so modern society is having to learn how to cope with the unintended consequences of what we are creating, thanks to the internet.

For the vast majority of us, there is no real understanding of who is actually behind a new service, or how good their programmers are, or if the service owners even care about our personal information. Another common pitfall is that we see often ourselves as the “customers” of the site, when in reality we are just the incredibly valuable data.

This is especially true of a site like Facebook, where we are actually the product – one which keeps on providing information about where and when we travel, eat, hang-out with friends, as well as our likes and dislikes – and the real Facebook customers pay big money to be able to have access to some of the valuable information we freely provide, so that they can tempt us to make use of their goods or services.

The internet is transforming our society faster than we can understand it. In our naivety we assume that internet sites are pretty secure, and most of the new cool sites are just that. This is because we think in a way that is societally normal.

Take Tinder for example, which takes the scary human interaction out of asking for a date. In theory all we have is a harmless dating app for the under 30s. Or maybe not.

What the age of the internet has also given us is a platform for a lot of very bright people who just do not think in the same way as the rest of society.

You and I may look at a securely padlocked door and think, ok, so it’s secure. They don’t think like that - they immediately look to see if there is another way in, has someone left a window open?

Before the age of the internet, they would be the kids experimenting to see how something physical could be used for a completely different purpose; like putting a certain type of peppermint into a bottle of Coke. Why would you do that? Just because you can… And the result is really funny.

So it is with the internet. Whatever clever programmers have engineered, another bright mind can reverse engineer and then exploit the system in a way that the creators would never have imagined.

Unfortunately Tinder is in the news again with a new website called Swipebuster. Thanks to some clever reverse engineering, this site allows anyone to check and see if  their partner is cheating on them. No doubt “cheating” was a situation not really thought about by the young creators of Tinder. And they probably don’t care.

Reverse engineering Tinder has been going on for some time. This example from a young man in 2014 shows how to exploit Tinder “for fun and profit” just because he can.

This is all very worrying, because since April 2015, Tinder has required users to supply personal information about their political and religious standing, as well as their current and former employers through Facebook. Without access to this information, users cannot use Tinder beyond Version 4.4.3.

It is worth noting that the creator of the Swipebuster site says he wants to draw attention to the amount of data we are sharing online, and how little control we have over it.

As a collective whole, we are going to have to insist that more time and effort is spent on making sure that our valuable data is safe and only being used for the intended purpose; and that we have a right to refuse to give certain information without being prevented from using the service. I know we could all provide fake information most of the time, but that’s not how normal society thinks.


Peter Locke

Director - Cyber Defence Limited

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