Saturday 01 July 2017

The Dark Side Of Data Encryption

Our increasing reliance on digital information has made the use of data encryption a necessity to protect our privacy and ownership of our personal data. Encryption ensures that only authorized personnel who possess the decryption key can fully access our data. Moreover, it allows our financial and medical information to be kept safe by third parties such as banks and hospitals and free from being abused by malicious threat actors. While the security benefits of data encryption are undeniable, recent cyberattacks by nefarious attackers using malwares to encrypt user data without permission also highlight the dangers from misuse of such practice. In May 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack crippled computer systems worldwide by spreading through a previously unknown exploit in the target computers’ operating system that was leaked by hackers. The ransomware encrypted user data and then demanded a ransom payment in exchange for data recovery. The cyberattack received unprecedented media attention because of the significant service disruptions and economic losses resulted from its impact on hospitals, manufacturing plants, transport companies, financial institutions, government agencies, and elsewhere affected by the attack. Although the cyberattack was mitigated soon after its initial outbreak, the fallout had since led to a call by both governments and academics for an urgent need to establish the ethics on the responsible use of data encryption. This way, we can feel assured that our private data will be protected from intruders who seek to destroy the footprints of our digital life.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Sunday 01 January 2017

I, Robot: Revisited

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, introduced in Runaround first published in 1942 and later republished in I, Robot in 1950, describes a set of “moral” directives by which a robot must obey when interacting with humans and each other. Though these laws were entirely fictional constructs, they had nonetheless become the underpinning for the framework in modern science (in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence) in dictating how robots should behave when they functioned autonomously. Yet, it is now known that Asimov’s laws have significant shortcomings and fail frequently to provide fundamental safeguards against unpredictable behaviors in robots that may put human lives in jeopardy. Importantly, these laws ignore that robots are merely tools, at least in its present form, so that humans, not robots, are ultimately the responsible agents who must be held accountable for any wrongdoings committed by them. Indeed, in 2013, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council working group of the British Research Council declared a set of 5 rules dictating how robots should be used in society and 7 principles guiding how robotics research should be ethically conducted. An important conclusion drawn from this declaration is the recognition that robots must not be used for exploitation by evoking emotional responses in humans wherein robots are disguised to have human-like features. This restriction precludes the use of robots solely to entertain humans, when such entertainment involves physical or even mental abuse of either robots or humans (a common narrative theme explored in science fiction). With rapid advances in artificial intelligence, however, it is a near certainty that machine ethics guiding the autonomous behaviors of artificial moral agents will collide with human ethics which currently posit human concerns to be the overriding determinant of robot behaviors.

By Philip Jong • At 01:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Thursday 01 January 2015

The Rise Of Cyber Vandalism

Vandalism was first coined by the Bishop of Bios, Henri Grégoire, to describe the deliberate act of destroying paintings, books, and other properties of cultural values during the French Revolution. It was named after the Vandals who looted the city they invaded during the Sack of Rome in 455 AD. In modern times, vandalism refers to the willful destruction of either private or public physical property without permission. The advent of the information age, however, has spawned a new type of vandalism—cyber vandalism. Most frequently, these cyber vandals exploit the openness of the internet to perpetuate acts of online sabotage, spreading messages of propaganda or stealing private data or personal information for nefarious use. In recent years, these acts of cyber vandalism have extended beyond attacks against governments or nation states for political gains to corporations with an intent to embarrass, defame, or humiliate these companies for their business practices. Regardless of the motives of these cyber vandals, there is simply no justification for their crimes and the damages they are causing—economic or otherwise. Importantly, when these crimes directly threaten the online security and safety of a nation’s citizens, this new form of vandalism may become the next frontier of warfare that will need to be fought in the digital world.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Tuesday 01 July 2014

Right To Be Forgotten (Or Not)

In May 2014, the European Court of Justice upheld the right of an individual to stop unwanted personal information from being circulated on the internet by a search engine. Most often, such information is of an embarrassing or sometimes criminal nature which, if wildly disseminated, may stigmatize the involved individual for life. Proponents of this right to be “forgotten” consider it a paramount element of international human right, while opponents denounce the same right as a challenge to the fundamental right to freedom of expression and as a form of global censorship. Importantly, this right is distinct from the right to privacy, with which it is frequently conflated, since it deals with information that is already publicly known but may be difficult to access otherwise. When the information concerns criminal history, the right must also be balanced against public safety. Yet, even if this right is upheld, any singular governmental effort to reinforce the right may be of limited success, as such information—once released—is likely accessible by means outside of a government’s control. Most ironically, individuals who are launching legal efforts wanting to have their own past forgotten by the internet are themselves inadvertently aiding its dissemination (the so-called Streisand effect)—placing themselves squarely in the center of public attention at where they least want to be.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Monday 01 July 2013

Mob Mentality Of The Net Generation

The ease by which crowds can congregate online anonymously has given rise to a new kind of negative mob mentality of the net (or internet) generation. Under the false guise of freedom of speech, these mobs feed on each others’ blinded anger and misplaced self-entitlement to viciously demean, chastise, and humiliate some individual for an alleged act of wrongdoing. These attacks have little regards for the whole truth, and their punishments are disproportionate to the severity of the supposed crime. Politicians and celebrities, in particular, make for easy targets for a mob who sees fit to practice its brand of social justice in order to bring them down from their ivory towers and perched pedestals. Social psychologists have theorized that the loss of personal identity in a crowd (deindividuation theory) frees an individual from social restraints and weakens the personal control of impulsive behaviors that are otherwise antisocial. This deindividuation then allows the participant to blindly follow the collective consciousness of the crowd (emergent norm theory) imprinted by self-imposed leaders whose disruptive behaviors are seen as the norm when they go unchallenged. American psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s famed Stanford prison experiment is prima facie of the permissive power of deindividuation in dictating negative crowd behaviors. Alas, regardless of whichever theory is correct in explaining mob mentality, it does little to curb the online behavior of the perpetrators or help the victims of mob attacks in the cyberspace.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Thursday 01 September 2011

The Wisdom Of Crowdsourcing

In social media, crowdsourcing has become a common and accepted practice to elicit ideas and feedbacks from the public-at-large online. The anonymity and accessibility of the internet have removed many barriers that would otherwise prevent this mass collaboration. In crowdsourcing, an inquiry is broadcast to an open community of participants (known as the crowd) who are tasked to respond back with information. Although the term crowdsourcing was first coined in only 2006, the first practice of crowdsourcing likely occurred centuries earlier. In the 19th century, the Oxford English Dictionary leveraged the public’s help to index all words in the English language by accepting submissions from volunteering contributors. In 2009, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) sponsored a competition in which teams were encouraged to leverage crowdsourcing in order to be the first one to locate a set of geomarkers that were previously hidden across the United States. Regardless of the medium wherein such practice is being used, the success of crowdsourcing depends entirely on the good will of the community and the motivation of its participants to contribute to the greater good of the crowd. Without this collective wisdom, crowdsourcing yields merely an incoherent collection of noise that is neither informative nor illuminating.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Thursday 01 July 2010

Friending In The Digital Age

We are social creatures. With few exceptions, we prefer to be in the company of others with whom we can share our interests, our likes, and our dislikes. Over time, we make “friends” with those whom we consider to be trustworthy, sincere, and like-minded. We share personal information with our friends, through which we develop an emotional bond with them beyond that of mere acquaintances. However, the advent of online social media has redefined how we make “friends” in the digital age. In particular, the rising popularity of social networks has allowed those who choose to participate to expand their social reach and make quick connections with other individuals who have also chosen to participate. Yet, the ease by which such a relationship can develop undermines the standard by which we uphold to define a friendship. Making a “friend” on a social network often means merely sending an unsolicited request to an individual and waiting for the individual to approve the request to be included on a “friend” list. The act inherently bypasses all established etiquettes that otherwise screen out individuals whose motive for wanting to be a “friend” is neither sincere nor honorable. More importantly, defining our social reach by the number of “friends” we make on these social networks ignores the quality of the friendships by which we should instead judge the success of our social net worth. In other words, we must not be blinded by the lure of collecting “friends” in the virtual world and ignore the value of making “friends” in the real one.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Friends • Under Tech • Under World
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Friday 01 January 2010

Y2K Crisis: A Decade Later

It was exactly 10 years ago from today that the so-called Y2K bug threatened to cause catastrophic computer system failure worldwide. The bug was attributed to an oversight in computer programming in which dates were stored as data in an ambiguous format such that many software were unable to differentiate between years in different millennia that shared the same last two digits. As the countdown loomed closer to 1 January 2000 (when the rollover would occur), both public and private sectors began to escalate their efforts with unprecedented assiduity in a desperate attempt to fix affected software for which a malfunction would threaten our global security or economy. At the same time, the prospect that critical city services and infrastructures might collapse at the turn of the millennium because of a peculiar software glitch fueled growing fear among the public, many of whom had scarce understanding of the true nature of the underlying problem.

Fortunately, with few exceptions, the Y2K crisis turned out to be a non-event. No globally significant major computer system failure occurred. Proponents argued that the absence of a catastrophe was prima facie proof of the success of the preemptive measures taken to address the problem. Opponents argued that the crisis was largely overblown and the panic expressed by the public was mostly unnecessary. Skeptics also claimed that countries which had invested much less intensive remediation effort apparently experienced no more Y2K-related problems than countries which had invested much more.

It is unlikely that we will ever know the full potential impact of the Y2K crisis. The truth, however, likely lies somewhere in between the opposing speculations. Regardless, the Y2K crisis has served to warn us of the danger in our dependence on technology and, more importantly, teach us that indeed an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Monday 01 December 2008

Bullying In The Digital Age

Just like a local school playground, the online digital playground is sadly populated by bullies preying on vulnerable victims with intent to cause harm (both physical and emotional), humiliation, or intimidation. Unlike the local school bullies, however, these online digital bullies often cowardly hide behind the veil of anonymity offered by the internet, in attempts to escape the consequences of their immoral actions. Teenagers and young adults, who form a large part of today’s online community, are particularly susceptible targets of cyberbulling because of their age, at a time when their social circles may be predominantly driven by their online personae. In recent years, the dangers of cyberbulling have received increasing attention from the mainstream media, after incidents of suicides have allegedly been attributed to relentless cyberbulling, often by adults. Unfortunately, current legislation in many countries, including Canada, is inept to deal with cyberbulling and to hold these bullies who make such infarction accountable. As an avid online user myself, I am intolerant of anyone who makes willful gestures that can be seen as acts of cyberbulling, regardless of their motivations and justifications. Cyberbulling is a societal crime, and our society and its citizens must be protected from it.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Tech • Under World
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Friday 01 August 2008

Failing Etiquette Of Online Anonymity

A great strength of the internet is the online anonymity it offers to its users. This anonymity, when used in proper context, protects us from political or religious prosecution, ensures our freedom of speech, maintains transparency in the democratic process, and guarantees our rights to privacy. Yet, on the internet, anonymity is frequently misused, both intentionally and unintentionally, so to make it difficult for proponents to defend its use. At a minimum, the etiquette of online behaviors has fallen to a new low—bashing, trashing, trolling, and other antisocial misbehaviors that exist solely to confront without just cause—being mean for the sake of being mean. It underlines a fundamental flaw in human social behavior: when we no longer need to answer to our own actions, we naturally choose to be selfish, self-centered, immature, and vindictive. It is not simply a matter of a need to state an opinion honestly and anonymously, but a matter of a need to state one’s own opinion rudely with the sole intent to deflate the legitimacy of others. It may be true that proper online etiquette has never existed, but this must not stop us from pursuing it and holding ourselves to a more civil standard.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Tech • Under World
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