These days, not a week passes by without news of another hacking incident. And the latest one seems to have hit the web (browser) version of popular instant messaging app, WhatsApp.
A security company has disclosed that a small piece of HTML code, embedded in an image, could bypass WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption provisions, allowing the software to take over the browser, gaining full access to the user's messages, photos, videos and the contact list.
Though the WhatsApp engineering team apparently fixed their software within hours of the announcement, it does not do away with questions like for how long the flaw has been known and by whom? Millions of users may have been hacked already due to this security flaw.
Several things to note for users, not all users are techies, and even among the techie users, not all of them fully understand and appreciate such news items. In fact, if anything, hacking news undermines and wears user confidence away. This is a complicated, multi-player game and no one is in charge. Neither the hackers, nor the companies whose products are being hacked and therefore who must respond? Furthermore, the news outlets, writer and editors, in most cases, are also not capable of making sense of the situation therefore failing to calm users.
The first time, a virus was written or an internet worm or malware attack was unleashed, things got out of control. I am not writing this to complain. First of all, I do not even know who to complain to. As I have already said, no one is in charge here.
Am I the first to notice, this cannot be, but you do realize that this is just madness, chaos and completely irrational. We receive phone calls from unknown, unrecognized and completely random numbers. We receive emails that incessantly offer us vacations to the Bahamas, Las Vegas, or Cancun. None one of these are authentic or holds any meaning. Messages and software, embedded with malicious software, are flying at us from every direction; hitting and missing us at a rate of a billion every second. Yet, all we are trying to do is perform our work and fulfill our social duties properly.It must be understood that no product of human design and manufacturing will be perfect. Shoes are never the same size, there are flaws with our cars' steering system, and our software is not perfect either. These flaws are only annoying at most. However, flaws in the software and networking are not reported, in fact, the knowledge of their exploitation is sold on the black market, to anyone willing to pay the price.
Who is hacking whom and why? Most of us are clueless as to who in the world would be interested in our conversations. Yet, we are being relentlessly attacked and this happens while our guardians (who, by the way, are paid with our taxes) seemingly do nothing. In fact, if WikiLeaks is telling it right, some of our guardians are hacking us too. They do not even seem to know why. Perhaps, they are afraid, thinking if they did not hack they would lose relevance.
So, how did we get here?
The idea of the internet was sown when Leonard Kleinrock, a PhD student at MIT, submitted a PhD thesis titled, "Information Flow in Large Communication Networks," back in 1961. From then till 1968, when the very first implementation of the internet networking principle known as ARPANET was contracted to his new-found home at UCLA, he developed it and a rudimentary internet network of a few nodes was functional in 1969.
A few computers in a few universities sending bits to one another, that was all there was to it. By placing the power of ideas, expressed in software, around this network one layer after another, we are here now. We cannot even estimate the size of the internet anymore. In fact, talking about its size has no discernible meaning.
The stories of the last 50 years will be written over and over again and will still be incomplete. We have built our businesses on to this ever transforming network and we just wanted it to properly function. There is no question that it self sustains, but its annoyances are now beyond just annoyances. Many thousands of actors and equipment and software developers are losing their trust in the system. They have completely forgotten the "user." It seems that they are selling out. They are giving away the keys, because they are often being forced to do so through quickly passed and often secret laws or worse even, they think they are benefiting from the new arrangements.
Our current state reminds me of those cartoons about lemmings, who display irrational group behaviors during mass migrations. Often the cartoons would depict lemmings falling off a cliff all together. Perhaps one of them was just trying to be different.
In the current state of our networked existence, millions of lemmings go in different directions and to different final destinations, but not one of them will be safe. Because we will all be crushed under the weight.