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Turkolmez: Your privacy may be even more limited than you think

Emre Turkolmez, Columnist

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You never know your privacy may already be compromised until someone discloses your information. Lately, we’ve been debating issues like privacy and anonymity much more than we used to. Yet, one question is being avoided: What if you have already been hacked and you do not know it?

The concept of hacking is broad, ranging from cracking a phone passcode to infiltrating highly-secured mainframe networks. I have come to observe that most people’s “knowledge” about this topic comes from Hollywood, Netflix and the like. For binge watchers, the only show that helps you start understanding how your own privacy is more a dream than a reality is “Mr. Robot.” To sound roughly Socratic, I myself know very little about how this world works, but I have seen enough to be aware of how much I don’t know.

One type of hacking is becoming relatively more mainstream, and if you don’t spend much time at your laptop surfing anything other than Google, YouTube, streaming services and social media, it is extremely unlikely that you have encountered it. It’s called doxxing: searching for and publishing someone’s personally identifiable, sensitive or private information publicly with malicious intent (or otherwise) without that person’s consent.

Hackers can doxx their targets by making the networks they use more vulnerable with a variety of tools, like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS). This, in overly simple terms, is when a hacker floods a network with requests, causing a denial-of-service and hindering or freezing that network. This attack, pardoning my nontechnical terminology, practically causes your devices’ privacy to be more vulnerable to the extraction of your personal information.

Anyone can be doxxed without realizing it, for to the surfers of the internet, it leaves no trace. You, your parents or any one of your friends may already have all or most of their “secure” information stored somewhere in someone else’s computer. I am not even remotely qualified to give tips and tricks on how to avoid this issue, but I believe everyone should at least start Googling it.

Even when you are inside the relatively safe zone of mainstream online services, don’t think you are not hacked just because your information has not been visibly exposed. All of our services and devices encourage the widespread use of saved passwords, four digit pins, “remember me” options, “connect with Facebook” buttons and credit cards flowing all around different websites, along with other sensitive information which is extremely crippling for online anonymity.

Here is what could happen: Disguised by a text-to-speech software that strengthens anonymity, a hacker may start leaking your blood type, location, social security number, name, etc. through any website that has a comment section. Or they could join a server you are in — be it Skype, Discord, Viber etc. Some of the information they get may be wrong or incomplete, but some of it may also be right. Regardless of the accuracy, you freak out, reset everything, cancel and close everything, change every password and start again. Yet, you never know if it was enough. It could have been, but again, what if someone still has your information? Then, only after you’ve experienced your privacy being violated, you try to learn as much as you can about cybersecurity and start applying it to your real life.

We too easily believe that our privacy is not breached while every piece of information submitted online may not actually be secure. The solution, unfortunately, is not covering your laptop’s camera with sticky notes. If we actually do value our privacy, we need to start learning at least the basics of online anonymity and safety.

Emre Turkolmez is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at emreturkolmez2020@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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