The Little-Known Ways Your Privacy Can Be Compromised

The Little-Known Ways Your Privacy Can Be Compromised

We’re living in a strange age. It’s the age where everyone is beyond forthcoming about posting geotagged selfies and updating the world about what they’re doing every day on social media. Yet, we’re also more involved in the conversation surrounding privacy, outraged that it’s being violated on a day-to-day basis by governments and tech giants. We complain about how Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest our data, while we continue sharing personal information online. Even if you’ve “deleted” yourself from the Internet, chances are you’ll still have an online presence thanks to friends who are active social media users. There are a hundred other ways for your privacy to be compromised as well, outside of social networking sites.


What’s scary about having your privacy violated is like having a stranger watch you every night outside your house, without your knowledge. You feel unsafe and helpless, like you could be taken advantage of at any time. Although it is highly unlikely for you as in individual to be targeted specifically, such violations can still prove detrimental, especially in the workplace. For some of us, we simply don’t worry about our privacy and security because they’ve never been compromised. Of course, it’ll be too late when it finally happens, so it’s vital to protect yourself to make sure it never will. Arm yourself with awareness first, and discover these little-known vulnerabilities to your personal and professional privacy.


1.The humble printer



Image Source: Wikipedia


 It’s common practice to secure your computers and laptops with a password, considering the sensitive information they carry, but what about a printer? What harm could it do? More than you think, apparently. Every office has a multifunction printer (MFP), a modest machine people tend not to pay attention to. Yet, it can turn into one of the most dangerous devices in the workplace that destroys your IT security. Because MFPs are often overlooked in a company’s IT security policy, they are left unsecured. Unsecured devices offer hackers a way into the company and can compromise the entire network.


An incident in 2016 saw the hacking of thousands of Internet-connected printers in the US by Andrew Auernheimer. All it took was just a few lines of code to identify the vulnerable printers with Port 9100 online, and get them to spontaneously print out racist, Nazi flyers. More recently in 2018, a university student manipulated tens of thousands of printers to send a playful message about YouTube gaming star PewDiePie. If these printers were implemented with the same level of protection as network computers (e.g. using a private, encrypted network, having a firewall, etc.), they wouldn’t be compromised so easily.


2.Your office telephone



Image Source: Ubity


Just because they don’t look as sophisticated as smartphones doesn’t mean your office telephone is safe from hackers. In fact, it could be recording all your conversations – not just phone conversations, but the office chit-chat when the phone isn’t in use. It may come as a shock that some of the microphones on these old-school telephones cannot be disabled or turned off. They are constantly picking up on the sounds of its surrounding, says Ang Cui, a cybersecurity specialist from Red Balloon Security. If these devices are hacked, they can become tools to spy on a person or an office. Any conversation shared in the same room where the telephone is can be recorded and listened in on.


This makes it incredibly easy for sensitive company data to be leaked. Just like the printers, these Internet-connected desktop phones have to be protected with the same measures as network computers. Otherwise, outsiders can take over the gadget, make spontaneous calls and even disrupt the office by playing sound clips through the phone, which has happened before when Brandon Edwards and Ben Nell pranked each other.


3.Other secret surveillance devices


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Besides desktop phones, anything with a camera (like your laptop’s webcam or the lenses on your smartphone) can be used as spying tools as well. You may brush it off and say it’s an unlikely risk, but when Mark Zuckerberg himself doesn’t feel safe with his webcam staring at his face, you might want to stick some tape over yours too.


Thanks to the Internet of Things, even your smart coffee maker can compromise your personal privacy. In 2014, Proofpoint discovered that more than 100,000 smart gadgets and appliances, one of which was a refrigerator, were hacked and used to blast a shocking 750,000 malicious emails. Michael Osterman, Osterman Research’s principal analyst, released a statement saying, “Internet-enabled devices represent an enormous threat because they are easy to penetrate, consumers have little incentive to make them more secure, the rapidly growing number of devices can send malicious content almost undetected, few vendors are taking steps to protect against this threat, and the existing security model simply won’t work to solve the problem.”


Considering how more homes are getting smarter (about 25% of households in the States have a smart speaker, according a 2018 Nielsen study), pretty much anything can be manipulated into espionage gadgets.


4.The public WiFi


Image Source: Youtube


Most of us think of public WiFi as a convenient, money-saving gift that saves us from paying for mobile data, but it is also a source of vulnerability. Who would have thought that something as simple as public WiFi could lead to the ultimate disaster of an identity theft? Once you connect to a public hotspot, your data becomes public as well. A hacker could collect a great deal of personal information – emails, photos, phone numbers, addresses, usernames, passwords, even your credit card details.


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These cyber thieves could also establish a fake WiFi connection, so that when you’re linked up, all shared data also goes through them. To combat these weak spots, you can either stay away from public WiFi altogether, or use a Virtual Private Network, which allows you to send and receive data anonymously and securely.


5.Location-tracking apps


This final one might be the most obvious privacy compromise – smartphone and tablet apps that are secretly tracking your whereabouts. A whole slew of apps, such as Google Maps and Grab that utilise GPS tracking, is able to follow you and pinpoint where you are even when your device is not connected to the Internet. For instance, if you activated Google Maps whilst online and kept the app going, even after you’ve lost the connection, your location can still be tracked.


Image Source: Apple


According to a recent lawsuit against Google, these apps might still be tracking you, whether or not you’ve disabled your location history. Imagine a tech-savvy stalker getting their hands on such real-time information about you. Your physical safety, not just your cyber safety, will be at risk.


At the end of the day, as much as we’d like to guard ourselves against such threats, it’s not the easiest thing to do. Many of us rely heavily on social media to consume news, learn about the world and stay informed and updated. It’s also an indispensable tool in certain occupations. If you’re running a business, for instance, it’s foolish not to use social media, which has become one of the most effective platforms for marketing and advertising today. At the same time, if you’re looking for a job, you might have to promote and brand yourself, creating online portfolios and maintaining an active presence on sites like LinkedIn. Coupled with how the way we live is quickly changing and governments are looking to build smart cities, it may serve you well to be aware of little-known privacy and security compromises. Preventing such compromises, however, is a whole other ball game.


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