Friday 19 January 2018

US spooks are least of our worries on private data

Peter Flanagan New Technology Correspondent

IRISH people have little understanding of how insecure communications are over the internet, and people need to become more aware of just how vulnerable their emails are, according to one of the leading IT experts in the country.

Andrew Harbison, who heads the IT-security division at the consultants Grant Thornton, said last week's revelations about how the United States can access almost anyone's email was disturbing but not surprising.

The surveillance operation, known as 'Prism', allows it to access the emails and personal details of millions of people around the world.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Harbison said there was a lot of naivete about how secure or otherwise a person's emails are. "At the end of the day you are using the service of a commercial company that is subject to all the legal requirements of the US government or elsewhere," he said.

"More than two-thirds of Gmail accounts are outside the US, while more than 80pc of Facebook users are not in America. So when the US authorities get access to traffic on those sites it is inevitable non-US users will be included in that. Should Irish people be concerned about the US reading your email? The short answer is no.

"They are not reading every email. They are looking for patterns or unusual activity – US authorities are not interested in the content of your email as such," he added.

Despite playing down concerns about invasion of privacy however, Mr Harbison said the scandal had highlighted the lackadaisical attitude people now take with their data.

"The big concern for regular people shouldn't be whether the government is reading your email or Facebook posts. The main problem is criminals breaking into their email or stealing personal data for fraud.

"Time and time again I have seen people fall victim to 'phishing' attacks when they reply to fraudulent emails, or forget to log out of their online banking at an internet cafe and so on. These are much more damaging to people on a daily basis than surveillance programmes such as Prism," he added.

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Irish Independent

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