Data security promises to be one of the main issues facing organisations in the year ahead. In the past year inadequate and weak security mechanisms have been used by most organisations and we know that government security agencies have accessed a vast amount of private user data stored on private corporate systems, usually without the knowledge of these corporations.
Faced by the prospect of a consumer backlash, some of the world's biggest technology companies took the unprecedented step of joining forces to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws to preserve public trust in the Internet.
But companies have also been seen as complacent in allowing themselves to be used as agents of surveillance.
In a global marketplace of data proliferation on such a giant scale, opportunities for governments to spy on citizens, to monitor their behaviour, track their movements, listen in on their conversations and ascertain their views, have never been easier or more tempting.
Tasks performed in the same way for thousands of years including banking, shopping, socialising and sharing information, are now electronic and sometimes automated. The next wave of products controlled online include domestic appliances creating a whole new class of online crime for hackers.
Apart from accessing bank and credit card details, collecting passwords and taking out fake loans, hackers will have access to much more information. User passwords are one of the main areas of weakness in data security systems. Some companies have stored user passwords using insecure methods and millions of passwords of large technology companies such as Adobe and Linked-in have been stolen.
Most users have weak passwords so hackers can deduce an individual's password using social engineering. Personal details such as your favourite football team, the year it last won a championship, your favourite band or your mother's maiden name can be used to guess passwords.
The weakest point is often people's social media accounts. Because many users use the same passwords as their internet banking passwords, or store information which can be used to access their internet banking, much valuable information is vulnerable.
In the future individuals will demand more control over their data and this will require them to be rewarded for sharing it.
Cookies are being replaced as consumers are herded onto data gathering ‘ecosystems' like Facebook and Google. While cookies are stored on a user's computer, this makes deep analytics of this data almost impossible. Instead, these ecosystems store the behavioural and browsing data on their servers, allowing for complex algorithms to be executed to allow valuable deep analytics to be performed.
These insights can then be sold and used to drive highly targeted advertising. Cookies provide individuals with control over their own data, although most users are unaware of this, so large data gathering organisations like Facebook are moving towards a centralised data storage approach.
This, in the short-term, is likely to cause a further backlash from consumers. The shift might be temporary as we move to a world where consumers demand to own their own data and get rewarded for sharing it.
One approach might be to give each Facebook user a reward point for every post, or number of friends who liked a post, etc. The “free” Facebook model is anything but – users are essentially paying with their data, and not getting anything in return. But in this savvy consumer age, that cannot last forever.
Contributed by Daniel de Bruin, managing director, Modelling Design Partners, a business intelligence company implementing data analytics and machine learning. http://www.modellingdesign.com/