We have concerns about whether our personal information is been snooped into by the many branches and agencies of our own government, but we have even more serious concerns about the activities of foreign states. Some governments target private citizens, their businesses and their personal and professional relationships – Russia and China are widely suspected of running cyber-espionage programmes.
But it’s not just governments.
There is a market for an individual’s private information. Money changes hands in return for people’s medical and financial details, facts about their movements, their relationships, even their opinions. And this information is easy to collect, with the help of a mobile phone surveillance device called a StingRay. These bits of kit can be as small as a paperback book, and they are routinely carried by anyone who wants to extract data from your smartphone, such as a corporate spy, a private investigator, a journalist, a cyber-criminal, or a hacker.
The growth in StingRay use has largely been kept secret from the public. Now they pose a clear threat to everybody with an unprotected phone. A person walking down a street with a smartphone is vulnerable to an electronic mugging that may steal a wide range of extremely sensitive information – including the conversation they’re having while it’s being done.
Think about the problem of fraud, and increasingly, blackmail. The annual revenue of the cybercrime industry is more than $400bn. This estimate, which comes from McAfee and is a little out of date now, is more than most countries’ GDP, and it is compelling evidence that we are suffering a cyber crime wave of pandemic proportions. And if it really were a disease, you might think twice before you walked out of your door in the morning …