The NSA spying scandal raised some awkward questions about IT security, and really hammered home the issue of encryption for the common consumer. It’s definitely a word that people have heard before, but until the widely-publicised NSA revelations appeared in the news – accompanied by over-simplified accounts of what went on – the general population has been far more wary about who’s listening in on their communications.
Roger Grimes of Infoworld reckons that the NSA scandal was ultimately a good thing, and that it will help us all move towards a better, more secure internet. In 2013 he wrote that we’d be left with better protection against companies and organisations spying on our lives and our conversations. Whether he’s right remains to be seen, and there are certainly those who believe that widespread surveillance is a small price to pay for protection against ‘terrorists’, but several companies have taken seriously their commitment to encryption.
Indeed, internet giants Google and Apple rushed to state that they would encrypt their users’ data by default. Six of the most popular operating systems (Windows 8.1, Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, Ubuntu, Chrome OS, iOS 8 and Android 5.0 Lollipop) now offer the option. And every week, another company announces that it will offer encryption to meet the demands of their increasingly security-conscious userbase.
This isn’t entirely new. Many platforms offered encryption as an option, and it was frequently something that users could set up if they wanted to. But in a lot of cases, users were unaware that it was even in place, and certainly didn’t know how to make it work. That might all change now, as 2015 could become the year that makes end-to-end encryption the default setting.
Much of this stems from the need to keep ‘bad people’ out of our computers, correspondence and mobile phones. But as the NSA scandal revealed, it’s no longer clear which of the people are bad and which of the people are good. Our idea of a hacker has changed and now, with the spectre of state-sponsored surveillance creeping its way into every bit of communication, we have to make the decision – do we leave our personal data unsecure, or do we protect ourselves from everyone?
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