Last week some of our self proclaimed Champions of Anti Spyware and Malware all revealed, seemingly at the same time, that they had discovered a nasty piece of powerful and malicious spyware called Regin. Victims were found in countries including Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Ireland, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. One company became aware of the threat and started tracking it in 2012, while another said it knew Regin had been active for at least 6 years and that they have since discovered traces of it from as far back as 2003.
The complexity of this software used to spy on governments, companies and individuals from around the world made it hard to explore. But the scale of resources needed to create it also told them that it had almost certainly been sponsored by a nation state, although on this occasion the usual suspects: Russia and China have been ruled out because not one of the victims came from any of the ‘five eyes’ countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. So experts have speculated that the software must have been created by one or more of their intelligence agencies.
Scary stuff and although Regin has seemingly been used to snoop on much bigger fish than you or I, how long can it be before the components of this spyware are stripped down, replicated and sold on to a much larger market of outwardly respectable organisations, agencies or just downright criminals? How long will it be before someone knows exactly what we are doing, where we are going, who we are speaking to and when and what our interests and perhaps even our deepest secrets are? Five years? A year? A few months? Now? The correct answer of course is NOW.
According to a recent survey by the consumer research firm Survata, 74% of the 2500 people involved care more about Google accessing their personal electronic data than they do their boss, their parents, their spouse even that other rapacious consumer of all our secrets, the NSA. There is a good reason for this because even if your parents and boss did have a look at your data, they would probably only see a small fraction of everything you search, e-mail and click anyway. While Google, good old Mr Google, logs that material more or less all the time and as things stand, even if you delete it, they will keep most of it forever, handing it over to whoever exercises their legal right to see it be it your Government, the Tax authorities, the security services or any unscrupulous individual or organisation who either asks for it under the guise of one of those above or who simply hack into it.
So what exactly does Google know about you? At the moment, if you regularly rely on the internet and use a number of devices such as Android to make your calls and search they will know a lot more than you may think. Indeed, in 5 years time if you interrogated your own Google archives for today – as well as viewing anthonybradley.net on your list of sites you viewed, they can show every email sent, chat room visited, comment made and every ad that you clicked. They will also tell you who you called and physically exactly where you were at any given moment of today. In fact if you interrogated your browsing and email records for a few days prior you would stand a very good chance of discovering exactly what you were doing today when you weren’t reading this.
Have you never been creeped out by an advert for a new camera or a device or even something like new patio furniture, which suddenly appears moments after that item was either mentioned in an email or you were only just surfing for it? It is no crazy coincidence. Yes, Google may tell us that it does this simply to provide a better service to you, but do we really need our personal lives dissected in such a way? What else are they collecting from that part of your personal life you have little choice to expose to them if you simply want to communicate and function in today’s digital world?
As an aside – as I was putting together my little opening one gag montage about Mr Google, it soon became apparent that the joke could have gone on and on and on for maybe another ten pages about the embarrassing things he might know about poor old Mr Smith, but luckily the editor in me cut it to just one page.
Often people come out with the mantra ‘If you’ve nothing to hide – why worry?’ Yes its true, internet records can help track criminals, terrorist and anyone else they use to scare us into handing over more and more of our personal lives and liberties so they can protect us. Indeed, many convictions have already been obtained after revealing only a fraction of someone’s surfing habits. So how far is the leap to a time when most judges or other prosecutors requests someone’s ‘Google Record’ as a matter of course, and could they be relied upon to use only that which is relevant? For instance – would there be an urge to reveal to say a mostly female jury – that the man in front of them spends 3 months annually in the fleshpots of Thailand, is a frequenter of certain porn sites and often denigrates women in his emails. They may even throw in the odd sound-bite from a private Lad-ish chat with a friend for good measure – indeed how much do you think those women would already be leaning towards a guilty verdict despite the fact I haven’t even told you why the man was in front of the Judge?
While we can only hope that sneakware like Regin is not unleashed on us mere mortals living towards the bottom of the food-chain, never forget that there are now countless other ways people can stalk you and look into your innermost secrets – so don’t make it too easy for them. Finally if you use Google and want to check out some but definitely not all of what Google knows about you, you can start by clicking on the links below. So if you don’t like what you see get busy revoking the default snooping permissions you gave Google when you, like most people, hurriedly clicked I agree on their terms and conditions without ever reading them.
1. Find out your entire Google Search history – Google saves every single search you have ever done. On top of that, they record every Google ad you have clicked on.
2. Your location history – If you use a laptop, Android, or other mobile device it may be sending your location as well as velocity data to Google.
3. Find out how Google sees you – Google attempts to create a basic profile of you, your age, gender, interests. They use this data to serve you relevant ads.
4. See every device that has accessed your Google account – Worried someone else might be using your account? You can find a list of all devices that have accessed your Google account, their IP address and approximate location.
5. What apps and extensions are accessing your Google data – A list of all the apps that have access to your data. You can see the exact type of permissions granted to the app and revoke access.