On Wednesday night, the campus was alerted that students’ emails and passwords may have been breached by hackers. The next minute, my computer’s blue glow illuminated my worried face as I checked if my email accounts had been hacked. Following some links, I wound up on a secure website dedicated to checking your email accounts for breaches. The site is titled “Have I Been Pwned,” and one of my emails from middle school had been pwned indeed.
Initially, the breach was alarming to me, but soon it didn’t bother me. The life we live digitally is not nearly as secure as we imagine, and our sensitive information is not as private as we like to believe. Some hacking concerns like bank account info will always make me uneasy. But barring stolen identity, why is being hacked so threatening?
First, it’s important to understand why “security on the internet” is an oxymoron.
As life migrates increasingly to the digital sphere, security will only be tenuous. Technology changes quickly and so too must the methods of security, opening up more possibilities for hacking. This may sound daunting, but we already operate in a world where privacy and security are an illusion.
The NSA has been collecting private text messages since at least 2011, although likely before then. I shudder to think of my text messages from sophomore year of high school that some federal agent had to wade through. Some NSA employees probably made a soap opera out of all those messy texts. As of 2017, the NSA allegedly doesn’t collect US citizens’ emails or text messages.
But the point remains the same: as citizens of the digital world, we are easily exploitable. The NSA itself said that in a 2011 presentation titled “SMS Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit.” Sure, change your passwords, but the truth remains that information on the internet may always be exploited. Every messy text message, every nude photo, every private phone call isn’t private at all.
I stopped to ponder all the information that hackers might possess of me and what would be most sensitive. Many people, I imagine, wouldn’t want their nude photos leaked most of all. Years ago, hackers exposed nude photos of many celebrities, mostly women. While leaking nude photos of anyone is immoral, perhaps we must stop looking to improved security protect us from hackers.
Fighting against hacking has proved to be a losing battle. Despite increasingly advanced security measures, Wikileaks dumped massive amounts of private emails. Hackers were still able to leak hundreds of nude photos stored on iCloud. Even apps like Snapchat, which is premised on the idea that photos automatically delete themselves, can be hacked and all those “deleted” photos can be recovered. And even if amateur hackers cannot access our personal info, the US government still can.
Maybe the answer isn’t to protect our sensitive information but ask why that information is sensitive in the first place. Sure, social security numbers and bank account numbers are private information for a good reason. But what is disturbing about exposing personal texts and nude photos?
If we shift culturally, and stop compulsorily sexualizing the naked body, then maybe leaked nudes wouldn’t be as scarring. Perhaps hackers will become so effective that the leaked nude scene will collapse. Who could reasonably care about a nude photo if everyone’s naked pictures are leaked?
Unfortunately, blackmailers have used naked photos and videos to extort people. Last October, the University’s IT department warned of a scam in which the scammer threatens to expose a webcam video of the victim masturbating unless the victim pays the scammer via bitcoin. What’s not bizarre is that most people masturbate. So what secret is being revealed by the threat?
Other individuals have committed suicide from sextortion after repeated bullying and harassment from schoolmates. It’s not as though hackers has power themselves; they need the collective shaming and abuse from the victim’s friends.
If we collectively recognize that nearly everyone has masturbated, sent personal texts, or taken nude photos, how can leakers have any power? If we stop finding personal information shocking or lewd, can people be effectively extorted?
Regardless of a cultural perceptive change, no one’s photos should be leaked. People’s bodily autonomy should extend to the internet, and releasing naked photos of someone is an attack on someone’s autonomy. But, I am suggesting that we can treat nude photos how we treat leaving the house in just your underwear. It’s a common nightmare, but ultimately, not that big of a deal.
So, one of my emails was hacked, but I have nothing to fear. I cannot be made to feel bad about any of my personal information, let alone whatever is on my middle school email. I’ll still change my password of course, but it’s not an emergency. I’ve been pwned, so what?
Connor Aberle is a member of the Class of 2019 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.