The End of Perfect Security (and our Radically Transparent Future)

The 99 Percent Invisible blog has a great piece on the history of locks, lock picking, and the moment when the world’s last unpickable lock was broken into.

You can read the whole story here (and should) – be here’s the highlight for me:

The pursuit of lock picking is as old as the lock, which is itself as old as civilization.

But in the entire history of the world, there was only one brief moment, lasting about 70 years, where you could put something under lock and key—a chest, a safe, your home—and have complete, unwavering certainty that no intruder could get to it.

This is a feeling that security experts call “perfect security.”

Since we lost perfect security in the 1850s, it has has remained elusive. Despite tremendous leaps forward in security technology, we have never been able to get perfect security back.

Over the past few decades, we’ve been living in a similar state of “perfect security” on the Internet (not in reality, but the majority of the world’s consumers have been trained to trust that their data is protected online – no matter how many times people would tell them otherwise.)

This is seen in the John Oliver interview with Edward Snowden (link below) In short, Oliver’s staff interviews US residents about Edward Snowden and most didn’t know who he was (and if they did, assumed he had stolen government secrets – but didn’t know what those secrets was)

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For those same individuals, he changed the context – and rather talking about data security in an abstract sense – asked individuals if they cared the government had access to their “dick pics.”  This example made security concerns around data far more real (similar to how locking up a physical building or object would have been previously.)

The Ashley Madison hack is the first of many such attacks that will start to make data security a big issue for individuals – who may be more thoughtful about what information they share (and who is storing that information.)

To that point, this will be a huge opportunity for companies that pitch privacy as a major selling point (ie DuckDuckGo – which I think will have a surprisingly massive outcome in the next few years) or help obfuscate identity (ie Burner which provides simpler disposable phone numbers)

For society, your real life and your public persona will grow increasingly intertwined – and we’ll have to get more comfortable with the assumption that everything you do will be public and discoverable.  (Billions of smart phone cameras everywhere + massive open repositories on Facebook + increasing sophistication in image recognition / data processing will make it hard to keep secrets.)

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