A new workspace has been created during the pandemic, which means hundreds of thousands of workers are using their own computers to access sensitive company infrastructure in an unregulated environment. This lack of protection makes employees and companies more vulnerable to hacker attacks.
But that is just the beginning. New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing are opening up new areas for economic and scientific growth. But they are creating new challenges for lawmakers and companies since hackers are able to use these tools as well.
In hackers’ hands they pose risks to many technologies that currently safeguard information — from asymmetric cryptography that a powerful, error-corrected quantum computer could crack without much of a challenge, to AIs impersonating contacts and replicating communication styles to extract sensitive information from victims.
The Internet of Things is a big global move toward hyper-digitization, which has become more than just a trend in modern society. With the advent of smart cities, self-driving cars, home appliances, government surveillance, and even automated, long-distance surgical robots, it is evident that we’re becoming increasingly reliant on ubiquitous connectivity.
While the advantages are undeniable, so are the risks.
Hackers’ expanded potential
In the past, it was bad enough when a hacker got hold of your email address. Now, he can reach into your home, car, personal data and medical records; he can even jeopardize your life by hacking into and interrupting a remote surgical procedure or steering your cloud-connected car off road.
Individuals, companies and governments are at risk.
The amount of power given to these malicious actors is only limited by the amount of digitization and connectivity each of us allows in our daily lives, as well as by the protective measures we use.
However, the choice for an individual is illusory at best. Even if we as individuals decide to steer clear from hyper-digitization, governments and corporate entities will make sure we embrace these new trends one way or another, because they believe, or have been made to believe, it is in their best interest.
This will be pushed top-down, either by legislation or by means of corporate requirements. Either way, digitization is inescapable, and its tendrils will reach only deeper into our social fabric as time goes on.
Risk of digital standardization
One of the biggest challenges to privacy is the notion of global digital identity framework. In the modern globalization and digitization movement that is advancing at an unprecedented rate, hackers’ manipulation and abuse of personal identity data has been used as an argument to set up a unified, interconnected, immutable, global database of personal information that can be verified and accessed at a moment’s notice.
While this premise seems commendable in a utopian society, it is important to remember we don’t live in one. Having such a system readily available to anyone in a position of power would create more opportunity for abuse than possible advantage.
It is in the best interest of individuals that personal data maintain a certain level of “noise” and privacy to allow leeway for cases where governments decide to systematically indoctrinate their citizens for various sociopolitical reasons. The COVID-19 era has created a fertile ground for the implementation of intrusive digital identity schemes, which are already falling in place under the guise of health passports and similar apps.
To explore those topics and more, the World Economic Forum has teamed up with Oxford University to create this report on the systemic risk of emerging technology, as part of the WEF’s “Future Series.”
Without going into too much detail, the WEF claims technology unification, transparency and control can solve the majority of problems related to attacks initiated by malicious individuals and groups.
The WEF says the current approach needs a new paradigm because it is unable to answer the challenge of evolved cyberattacks, but it never questions the direction of the continuing digital (r)evolution, or asks whether this is the right way to reap the benefits of the digital era, considering the global socio-political backdrop that accompanies it.
More government control, less privacy
Although the WEF report emphasizes the importance of privacy and revocability of sharing personally identifiable information, it fails to realize it also advocates for their negation by pushing for increased control and oversight. One cannot have privacy if one is a subject to total control and oversight.
To be fair, that was never the goal of the document. It was to provide guidelines that would enhance the structure of the new globalized, digital society, making it more resilient and less prone to stressors.
While speaking against the resilience of such systems seems a bit counterproductive at first glance, sometimes they need to be checked and even played. As we dig in deeper, we end up giving up more of our freedoms, becoming subjects of ever-growing control and constraints imposed by this overarching global, digital system.
If it is left unchecked, we will soon reach a point where all aspects of our lives will be under strict control of a national or even supranational entity.
Of all the risks humanity is facing right now — the pandemic and terrorism included — this is one of the most alarming. It has the greatest potential of inflicting damage globally and in the long term. One can only hope that the infrastructure put in place will be used solely for prosperity and advancement, and not for furthering state agendas. Fingers crossed.