Misuses of power

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Canadians love the internet; more than 80% of the population over the age of 15 make regular use of it. And the usage is significant – more than forty hours per week for the average Canadian internet user. This       compares with an        average of twenty-three hours per user world-wide. However, there is a   downside to this heavy internet usage.
One major issue with internet usage is the threat of malware –    malicious software that has unwanted and     undesirable effects on a user’s computer system. One recent example is the Heartbleed virus that caused the Canada Revenue Agency to close down its computers for five days. Most malware is aimed at obtaining    information that can be used for illegal financial purposes; a person’s social insurance number and name are sufficient to obtain a credit card. Other information, such as passwords and credit card usage for online   purchases may be picked up by malware and used illegally and several months may pass before the misuse is detected.
An area of concern is online banking. Banks encourage their customers to use this feature for some good reasons. The cost of processing an online transaction is less than five cents, compared with approximately thirty cents for an ATM transaction and more than two dollars for transactions that require human interaction. Also, online banking may be convenient for the customer and many use it. Further, the banks guarantee protection for online users including financial compensation for malware attacks on customer accounts.
However, this protection has several requirements. Customers must be using a computer that has a current, up-to-date operating system and   current, certified malware protection software such as firewalls and virus checkers. The problem is that many users may not be aware of these requirements and may    be using out-of-date   software. 
Beyond malware threats is the issue of Big Data. This is not an attack on an internet user but rather collection of details of internet use. Big Data is the term originally used by scientists to study massive amounts of data collected from devices such as the hadron collider and the Kepler telescope.
However commercial use of Big Data is aimed at developing patterns of internet usage that can be exploited for advertising and sales. The data is    collected by the suppliers of social software such as browsers, Facebook, Twitter and similar      software tools required by an internet user. This massive data is then sold to third party concerns. Although the companies collecting the data claim they do not collect data that identifies a specific user, they do not follow up on how the data is used or        misused.
In summary, the     internet is a powerful tool in the information age but users must be aware of pitfalls and potential    misuse of its power.