Thursday 24 January 2013

What if Google went bust?

Ever consider that? What would you lose?

During life we put a spectrum of trust in different areas, depending on our own risk assessment. We originally entrusted our tribe members to help protect the community. Now, we might give a dollar to a little boy to fetch us something, and we might not get it back. Who cares? it's a buck.
We trust out mortgage to the banks because they have a proven history of money management.

So what about your data? I trust Google with a lot of my content. In fact, not really content, but information. Dates, numbers, links, hints, prompts, memories...
It's hard to back up because it's a network of information. A lattice that Google so elegantly lets you search.

We occasionally joke about our reliance on these modern devices when an old fashioned diary will do - but what happens when you lose that? I was listening to an interesting podcast recently from our public broadcaster ABC, a program called "All in the mind". A recent discussion on memory suggested we've been using these aids in various forms to help us remember from computers to paper to papyrus to cavern walls - so what's the matter with using this tool aiming for a device harmoniously engineered for bio & robotics. Well, maybe I added some thoughts in the description - but a program well worth a listen.

On a slight tangent (ba-dum), searching is an interesting topic itself - what if all information humanity knows about the universe was in a cube the size of a dice? Search facilitation would have to be impeccable. Search companies are never going to die (altavista? well, companies that aren't a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary)

If Google went bust, I'd be in the doo doo.

So what about your personal finance software? What if that went bust? or your hard disk died? laptop stolen? fire?
How much information would you lose? How easy is to backup? Copy the export to a disk, thumbdrive, cloud service, cd - somewhere off-site.

And know how to get it back.

Risk vs benefit vs simplicity.

I have what I feel is a very strong password - that's all you need, right? Remember the TV show "Weakest Link", think about that with your security. Cars used to be hot-wired, now they can't so criminals steal keys out of houses.

Heck, what happens when our cars start integrating via bluetooth with more intelligence to other aspects of your life? Smartphone applications getting more advanced and integrated than Google's My Tracks or Angry Birds.

People are being asked to put passwords everywhere now right? People using simpler passwords and not caring about that added security because it's too hard an unnecessary - who would be interested in me, right?

Shit happens and sometimes it gets up your nostrils. People might start to take notice - sites are providing shared authentication through a number of accounts - google, facebook, twitter - so the closer we get to one-size-fits-all authentication, we can perhaps think about just having one good, strong, but easy to remember password.

So, passwords is too strong for a super duper force of networked computers to hack? well try basic social engineering.

I think everyone should read the story of Mat Honan, a man who's heavily invested digital life was destroyed with a simple phone call.

He lost all his information, and tells the horrible story of someone gaining access to a single point of his online identity, then trail blazed from there - just by someone pretending to be him on a phone, getting a password reset. All because they liked his 3 letter twitter handle.

I've had this rambling drafted for a while, and now I encounter the perfect concept to take away from this - Google has now announced a war on the password.

I've always had interests in various security aspects of computer science, and I think this will be an interesting part of the journey. I wonder which science fiction writers ended up being right in helping us imagine the future we encounter?

When will we close a year of technology and comment on the general disappearance of the common password, gone like the day of the 3.5" disk that fits perfectly in your starched shirt chest pocket?

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