The amazing and menacing futuristic era of digital technology has furnished us smartphones, digital TV and radio, wi-fi, virtual assistants, online shopping and such but also blockchain, autonomous weapons, artificial intelligence, ransomware, the dark web, and more.
Oil, gas, and meat shortages from foreign ransomware cyberattacks on Colonial Pipeline, one of the largest pipeline companies in the U.S., and JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processors, have stoked public fears of menacing digital technology run rampant. Many are certain that disruptive attacks on our financial systems, power grids, and transportation systems are just around the corner.
And it seems that our all-powerful defense systems designed to keep foreign enemies at bay are helpless against digital enemies.
But there are other digital calamities that hit closer to home. CNBC reports about 50% of identity thefts come from digital thefts. Experian estimates that 1 in 20 Americans suffer such thefts yearly. Unauthorized charges to credit and debit cards, takeover of checking and cell phone accounts, filing of fake tax returns, and more can be life debilitating events.
Then there is deepfake technology. Did you see the sad story in Sports Illustrated last month about a mom who used deepfake video technology to slam her daughters’ competitors in a cheerleader competition? The mom created fake videos that showed a teenage competitor “in unflattering and potentially compromising situations” including nudity.
The SI article describes how deepfake technology, now readily available for use on smartphones, can be used to create videos and photos where the appearance of one person is substituted with another. “We’re not safe in cyberspace,” the story emphasizes. “Anyone can grab any image we put out there and manipulate it to look unseemly.”
“The capacity to generate deepfakes is proceeding much faster than the ability to detect them,” reported the Brookings Institute in 2020. Sen. Marco Rubio warned in 2018 that deepfakes could be used to attack America and other democracies.
The last two National Defense Authorization Acts directed the Department of Homeland Security to study the use of deepfakes and investigate possible detection methods. The Department of Defense is assessing the risks of deepfakes being used against military personnel.
On the broader front, national efforts to thwart cyberattacks and harmful digital technology are limited. Pipelines, power grids, Internet networks, and such are owned and run by private businesses which must provide their own security. Government has little authority to intervene. The Biden administration is making noise about retaliating against foreign hackers, but so far that’s just talk.
Government and business must take steps to prevent menacing digital technology from doing harm. However, at this point in this new era, even laws criminalizing such acts after the fact are limited. In Mississippi cyberbullying and identity theft are criminal acts. Last month Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill criminalizing revenge porn where “intimate parts” are depicted without consent. Other states have passed similar laws. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the main federal law. But it hasn’t been updated since 2008.
Laws are nice, but prevention is what we need for both national and personal security.
“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” – Psalm 82:4.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.