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Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Question of Security

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By Mark Abbott

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With the rise in social media usage, notably Facebook’s user increase of 35% (daily active users have reached 665 million (http://ow.ly/mPdNn) and Twitter’s growth of 44% between Q2 2012 and Q1 2013 (http://ow.ly/mPdvO), the need for sustainable, coherent and effective security is ever more apparent.

Social networks are not only valuable for their communication and social aspects, but are now developing into e-commerce, m-commerce and now possibly classify as f-commerce platforms- with purchases made through Facebook marketplace. Social media is becoming more accessible to advertising, in fact revenue from Facebook advertising in the United States is expected to reach $3.87 billion in 2013 and revenue from Twitter expected to reach $484 million in 2013 and just over $1 billion by 2015 (http://ow.ly/mP6qq). Whichever way your opinion swings on social media advertising, it can still cause problems for the advertiser, the consumer or the platform. The most recent high profile incident was Sky and M&S withdrawing their adverts through Facebook due to misplaced and somewhat misguided information and associations of their products (http://ow.ly/mP6nM). 

Social networks are the places for data to harbour and thrive- it’s imperative it’s contained and maintained, without the user feeling violated. Edward Snowden believes society should not live in an Orwellian world of 1984 but instead be in control of their own lives and data exposure "I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under." It begs the question: how responsible should you be with data and to what extent should data be available? Furthermore, data which is being controlled can also be released without intention or permission of the user: for example, the data-leaking bug by Facebook resulted in the details of 6 million users being exposed (http://ow.ly/mP6Cy); which meant you might have received the telephone number of another person who specifically chose not to share that number with Facebook. Facebook reassured their efforts to protect user security “your trust is the most important asset we have, and we are committed to improving our safety procedures and keeping your information safe and secure” (http://ow.ly/mP70Z) but is this enough? Does it really satisfy our confidence in Facebook’s ability to retain and secure our personal information?

On the flip side, social medias’ openness for engagement and accessibility means the recent riots in Turkey could be accurately followed and recorded by residents and rioters alike “social media became the only way to present the truth of what is happening to the protestors, and to the whole country” noted one activist (http://ow.ly/mP741). Consequently, Turkey’s government have requested “Twitter to set up an office inside the country so company representatives can be reached more easily” and several dozen tweeters were arrested following the protests (http://ow.ly/mP75L).

Now that social media is being measured and monitored, it’s easier to start to use it in a positive way for information security. One interesting concept is SoPost, which uses your social media handle as your address- allowing others to post to you no matter where you are. As a slightly controversial route with social media, we spoke to the founder, Jonathan Grubin, who told us his thoughts on SoPost’s ideals, purpose and security:

"When people talk about social media and data in the same sentence, one of the first things that often springs to mind is (understandably) questions of privacy. When so much of our lives is out in the open, and with Facebook's sometimes questionable policies on privacy and 'sharing', it's easy to become concerned; but what many people don't realise is that our social media accounts can also be used to protect some of our most sensitive information.

That's what we're trying to do with SoPost. We live in a world where practically everyone we know has an account with a major social media network like Facebook or Twitter, and we all have email addresses and mobile phone numbers that rarely, if ever, change. Our goal is to turn these parts of our identities into a proxy for our postal addresses: there's no need for the world to know our home, work and parents' addresses - a social media profile can protect this data, putting you in control of who sees what, and when."

A new and alterative approach to social media’s security issues means that this could represent a step towards the future of communication and functionality- adding another dimension to information security and the way in which we use it. Could SoPost start to pave the way to a new outlook and usage of social media?

What lies ahead for the future of social media and information security as a whole? One for further discussion and debate.....we’d love to hear your views.

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