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Living digital lives

Dal's yearly Data Privacy Day event

- February 6, 2012

John Bullock, information security manager at Dal, presents at Data Privacy Day. (Bob Pettipas photo)
John Bullock, information security manager at Dal, presents at Data Privacy Day. (Bob Pettipas photo)

“It’s not the technology that’s bad,” said Toronto-based lawyer and consultant Michael Power. “It’s the people that use it.”

Mr. Power was referring specifically to issues of doctor-patient confidentiality in medical health records, the subject of his keynote speech at Dalhousie’s fifth-annual Data Privacy Day. But he could well have been speaking generally about the overall themes of the afternoon-long conference on “Digital Lives in a Networked World,” which took place on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Like many of the talks, Mr. Power’s presentation—“eHealth&  Privacy: Issues and Implications for Society”—looked broadly at the implications of hosting daily transactions and interactions online. Though convenient, moving medical records online impacts a number of areas that Mr. Power discussed, including the protection of patient information, concerns involving patient/doctor confidentiality and other issues.

Hacker targets

Peter Morin, who lead’s Bell Aliant’s corporate security team, spoke about modern cyber attacks, which often focus on fortune 500 companies, governments, and other high-value targets. These attacks not only have a financial impact on the companies breached, but can leak financial and contact information, credit card numbers, contact lists and numerous other sources of valuable information.

Mr. Morin broke down how attackers go about obtaining this information, how they hack into networks, and how they fool innocent people into giving them access to these networks. He stressed the importance of protecting data instead of protecting the device itself, as the primary cause of identity theft is usually data breach – not a hardware issue.

“Hospitality and retail are the two most common targets of hackers because of the amount of information available and the little amount of protection surrounding it.” said Mr. Morin.

In order to better protect your data from hackers, Mr. Morin recommended a few measures including encryption, monitoring the data that is leaving your network, taking care of your web apps and, where possible, blocking international access to your data to further restrict malicious individuals from getting into your system (geo-blocking).

1984 in 2012

For John Bullock’s presentation, the Dalhousie information security manager appealed to literature with “1984 at Twenty-Eight: The State of Surveillance.” He drew on comparisons between the George Orwell novel and the way the world today is close to what Orwell imagined when the book was published in 1948. Although not quite as extreme as Orwell’s world, the state of surveillance in 2012 is eerily similar.

“Art imitates life and life imitates art,” said Mr. Bullock, when asked about how he related 1984 to today’s society. “We should pay attention to both in order to give us a better understanding of what could happen.”

While speaking with Mr. Bullock, I also asked how our surveillance state, should we ever wind up in a complete one, would differ from that in the novel. He said that given the technologies that Orwell was imagining (large-scale surveillance), he would not have been able to predict the “little brothers” to his Big Brother. Mr. Bullock said the “little brothers” were things like commercial cameras, ATM cameras, traffic cameras, Google Street View, and more.

Considering your digital footprint

The day concluded with presentations from RCMP Sergeant Tom Murdock on avoiding identity theft, and Ryan McNutt from Dalhousie Communications and Marketing, who looked at maintaining personal privacy in social media in his presentation “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: A Digital Footprint Checklist.”

When it comes to posting things on the web that people might find Mr. McNutt says, “Think about what you’re posting as if your insurance company is reading it.”

This led me to ask students what they thought about their digital footprint – I was surprised to learn that many students hadn’t even considered what their footprint might be!

“I hadn’t thought about how everything might be connected,” said Graeme O’Neill, a first-year student. “It’s kind of scary when you think about it.”

For more information and videos from the conference visit the ITS website.


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