Dutch scientists have recently announced a breakthrough in quantum mechanics that could have significant applications in networks and security. Where previous experiments in this field have demonstrated that information could be transmitted across great distances (up to 90 miles) via quantum mechanics, the researchers at Delft University were able to instantaneously transfer information between two quantum-entangled bits (Qubits) ten feet apart from each other, and they theorize this could be accomplished at greater distances as well. While this may not sound like a practical distance, there are two important facets to consider: the information doesn’t actually traverse the distance, the information just exists in two different places at the same time, and the materials used to build the Qubits (in this case, diamond) could conceivably be produced on a mass-scale.
What this means for you:
Though it sounds like science fiction, quantum computers are actually being built and are in use, though mostly in highly experimental situations. The benefit of quantum data communications go beyond speed: because data isn’t transmitted so much as teleported across distances, it would be theoretically impossible to intercept, tap or otherwise tampered with a quantum bit of information without altering it, and thereby rendering any sort of eavesdropping impossible. Quantum-based encryption keys would be unbreakable and could never be intercepted or replicated as has been the weakness exploited in Heartbleed and countless other security hacks. However, we are still years away from a quantum internet, or even a quantum home computer or router, so don’t give up on your current security measures just yet. Also keep in mind that even though quantum security is impossible to hack in theory, the devices that will be built to use quantum mechanics will still be designed by people, which means that it is only as impervious or infalliable as the humans that created it.
Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
German newspaper Der Spiegel launched a media frenzy last week with the provocative story that the NSA can (and probably has) compromise the iPhone in a way that gives them complete “ownership” of the device for the purposes of surveillance. Fueled by documents released by infamous informant Edward Snowden, the article details a specific program called “Dropout Jeep” that could completely compromise an iPhone…in 2007.
What this means for you:
Today, in the internet economy, media outlets have priorities that aren’t always compatible: keep their audiences informed, and get as many eyeballs/clicks/likes as possible. As you can imagine, stories about iPhones and NSA spying are hot commodities right now, so when the two subjects align, how can you not lead with such an explosive story?
Several articles spurred by the Der Spiegel piece speculated that Apple may have been working with the NSA all along. Most suggested that the NSA can and has owned even current gen iPhones. Apple, of course, has denied any collaboration with the spy agency. The NSA itself continues to remain silent on stories like this. But, as mentioned above, the Dropout Jeep program was active in 2007, and required the hacker to have physical access to the device. As many of you have heard me say before, if someone has physical access to your device, compromising the device (regardless of manufacturer or type) becomes much more straightforward. The Snowden document did indicate that the NSA was working on future versions of the spyware that wouldn’t require physical access to the device, but for the moment, there is no proof that they can “own” modern iPhones.
But there’s no proof that they can’t, either.
As if all the NSA surveillance nonsense wasn’t enough to put everyone on edge about covert snooping, a UK blogger has published information that appears to demonstrate that his LG Smart TV was transmitting data to internet servers about his and his family’s viewing habits, as well as information about USB devices and files attached to the television. On top of this blatant invasion of privacy, there appears to be no way to opt out of this information gathering and sharing, and the information was being sent unencrypted over the internet. When questioned about this particular behavior, an LG representative unapologetically pointed to the Terms and Conditions that the blogger tacitly agreed to upon purchase of the TV, and suggested that he take up his beef with the retailer who sold him the TV in the first place, essentially insinuating it was their fault for not warning the buyer that they were purchasing a 42″ privacy invasion.
What this means for you:
If you have an internet-enabled television, it’s very possible that device is phoning home with data about your viewing habits, and it’s also likely the only (easy) way to disable this is to disconnect the TV from the internet, a feature that was probably instrumental in this particular model being purchased in the first place. Granted, there have been thousands and thousands of families who have happily volunteered this information for decades (think Nielsen ratings), but they knowingly opted in to this reporting. It’s unclear whether TV manufacturers (and the entertainment industry in general) will come clean about this practice any time before Black Friday sells thousands (millions?) more of internet-enabled TVs, and even if they do, you can bet the majority of folks will be outraged for the regulation 15 minutes, and then will probably “return to their regularly scheduled program.” If you have concerns about your shiny big-screen selling you out, pick up the phone or write an email to the manufacturer. Failing a response from them, it may be time to raise a stink at your local big box that sold you the device, because nothing kills sales like angry customers dragging big screen TVs through the return lines.
Images Courtesy of Ohmega1982 (TV) and Salvatore Vuono (eyeball) / FreeDigitalPhotos.net