In dark days for privacy, protecting data gets more hands-on

In the Searchlight, protecting data is getting more hands-on as Snowden leaks mount. Plus, get moving on big data, get hired at Google and more.

Privacy is the new black. Or maybe it's the other way around. At Mobile World Congress 2014 this week in Barcelona, the world was introduced to Blackphone. Described as "the world's first smartphone which places privacy and control directly in the hands of its users," it's not to be confused it with Black. The latter is a smartphone created by Boeing, aimed at government and security workers, that will self-destruct if tampered with. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is personally protecting data privacy.

Karen GoulartKaren Goulart

The makers of these devices couldn't have timed their debuts much better. This week's news brought one of the creepier Edward Snowden revelations seen thus far. In this week's lead Searchlight item, Spencer Ackerman and James Ball of The Guardian reveal details about British spy agency GCHQ's Optic Nerve program. The surveillance program (allegedly with NSA assistance) collected and stored millions of webcam images from Yahoo users' video chats. Yahoo is understandably "furious," according to reports. Who can blame it? Just a few months ago the beleaguered company made a promise to encrypt all user data moving between its data centers by April. It was a bid to regain user trust. Ouch.

Perhaps it's naive to simply say a government is supposed to help, not hurt, its citizens. But one would hope a government wouldn't want to sabotage its own economy by hurting its businesses. When people lose trust in a business, like Yahoo, that business only gets so many chances to earn back that trust -- regardless of who was at fault for its loss.

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And that brings us back to the idea of do-it-yourself data protection promised by these new dark devices. I suspect they'll sell well, at first to businesses, then eventually to consumers also. Do-it-yourself encryption, or "bring your own encryption," is one of the top enterprise security trends of 2014, according to Forrester Inc.

Data encryption was always a good idea; now it's kind of a must for companies and their IT leaders. Maybe encryption key management is not a core competency in your organization. It's probably time to change that. It's not so much that service providers can't do security better than you -- in most cases they can -- it's that they most likely can't do it better than the government. But like Forrester analyst James Staten noted on the topic, if you're holding the encryption keys, you're holding your data destiny. Not Google or Yahoo or Amazon or anyone else. Your customers and partners will be glad you do.

  • That kooky friend who always insisted you should cover your webcam? Not so kooky.
  • The best way to finally get moving on big data? Remember a journey of 1,000 petabytes starts with one bit.
  • The $25 smartphone is coming, bringing billions -- with an emphasized B -- of potential new consumers to your business . Your mobile strategy is ready to handle that, right?
  • What it takes to get hired at Google, one of the world's most innovative tech companies, is surprisingly, well, human.
  • See how the botched operation behind Healthcare.gov was revived by a team of tech elites, getting the site back on its feet sooner than expected.
  • Because the computer virus created by German researchers that can travel through sound wasn't bad enough, researchers in the UK have created one passed "like the common cold" over Wi-Fi. C'mon people, it's not a contest.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, senior features writer.

This was first published in February 2014

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