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Closing Conversation: Security

Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt discuss ... Security
This is not a completely soluble problem. There will always be people who want to act criminally on the web. It’s always been the case, in all human technologies, that there have been these kinds of developments, both for and against. Measures and countermeasures. We will see that on the web. We have to learn to deal with this. Just like we do in the real world. We learn to lock our windows and double lock our doors. This is what we have to do now in the digital world.
This is a world that we will have to have experts in: we have to train people to understand it. But the most important thing– and this is the web science issue– is that it isn’t just about the technology. It’s also about human behaviour and understanding some of that. Most security breaches that occur in our digital age are around frailties of human psychology, and not the actual technology itself.
Most security breaches occur two sources: one is people working inside an organisation, or indeed through organised efforts, to actually socially engineer people into position to reveal information they shouldn’t.
The question of privacy on the web is a very interesting one. We don’t know yet how this is going to play out. There’s a very strong feeling that, well, there’s no such thing as privacy on the web. Get over it. People have kind of tended to say the web– digital surveillance– means that privacy is over. And I think nothing could be further from the truth or more dangerous. So we have this digital persona. And it really is up to us to decide how much of that we allow the rest of world to see.
It’s crucially important that people realise that they are now in a position of having a duty of care and responsibility to their data, not just a bunch of rights. As a society, we’re going to have to learn how to deal with the fact that one stage of your life you act one way, and another stage of your life you want to look more dignified. And can you ever blot out those memories?
Then the question is one that isn’t to do with technology: it’s again to do with sociology, it’s to do with law, it’s to do with social conventions. What do we, as a community, as a society, decide is acceptable use of this information? And that’s where we re-secure our privacy.
Many people have talked about, can we have a crime-free world? Can we have a paradise in the real world? And it’s the same issue in the digital. I don’t think you can ever have a completely secure web. To have complete security, everything’s got to be locked down. You wouldn’t be able to do anything. And it’s the same in the web. And again, it’s a self-similar problem, all the way down to the individual. Your and my security is just as good as the technology that we have to defend ourselves. It’s just as good as the attention we pay to it.
These are amazing issues that we– they’re playing out, and we’re learning how to deal with it as the web evolves and as we evolve with the web.

The third in a weekly series of dialogues between Professor Dame Wendy Hall & Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt (leading academics in Web Science from the University of Southampton).

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