We usually talk about cyber security and privacy related to the world of industry and personal, but today I would make some points related to research in universities.
how much security aware are universities?
This is an interesting topics, looking at the statistics on cyber security attacks I would say security and privacy awareness is not at the first point in their needs.
So bad …
well first of all let’s make a little distinction:
it is out of doubt that engineering universities and research are more cyber security savvy than the rest. Some of them are also actively working and studying the the issue.
but nevertheless the overall cyber security and privacy approach, beside the ones actively working on the subject, is poorly implemented. on the other end engineering universities are full of guys playing with the fire … some will be the defenders of tomorrow, some are the hacker of today (hacker is not necessarily a bad term).
the rest is in a questionable situation, both cyber security and privacy lack of vision and willingness to address the point. even if there are areas that deal with very sensitive data, think healthcare industry.
the result is under our nose, a lot of people with great skills and knowledge on a lot of different subject completely unaware of the consequences of digitalization…. why do you think is so easy to break into healthcare systems, law firms and so on?….
The research issue
there was a time where being a scientist was putting your life at stake, was not easy to be Galileo Galilei at his time. But I hope that anyone with a brain can agree on the fact that science was mandatory to develop our society and way of life. Science play an important role on human development, and I took science with the largest meaning…not only technology or physics, but medicine, economy, social science, history, literature, philosophy … in a way culture … the connection and ramification of science with art, as an example, are undeniable… so we should ask ourselves if there can be a world without science.
But science is based on theories more than faith, trials more than prayers, and therefore need a solid trusted based …
the trust is no more here
In this security and privacy unaware environment seldom researchers that are not security focused put attention to security, but nowadays research environment and criminal landscape and geo_political warfare would suggest a different approach. if some years ago the word of a scientist was respected, nowadays seems that politics take over science and data and result are not what they are, consequences of studies and trial, but things are what your political beliefs want it to be.
so we see a rising of “creationists” or other religious para-scientific accreditation as “scientific”, as well the denial of scientific evidence in the name of political or religious beliefs (think at global warming as an example).
When you start a research you need, basically, to start collecting and managing data, use some computational power, share those data with peers…. but those data, those exchanges are what we should take a look for also in terms of privacy and security.
Depending on the nature of the research you can have direct evident privacy and security implications, but even if you are working on not apparently key areas you should put some precautions on the table. Let quickly try to explain why:
data are important
Data are what you have to work on, you sample, collect, store, analyze, transform data.
In a trusted environment you can avoid to care too much, come on i trust you and you trust the others so what can be wrong… but this is no more the reality.
- if your data have some kind of value (and i think they have, or you would not use them) you should protect them
- if your data are needed to prove your point you should be able to ensure they are reliable
- if your data need to be exchanged with others you should be sure what you transmit is what they get, and what you receive comes from a equally trusted source and data itself are trustable.
- if you work worth something may be you want some intellectual property on it, and therefore you have to be sure your result are not repudiable, subject to copy or used and\or modified without your knowledge
those 4 points are the the main areas where you should put privacy and security into the equation no matter what your research is.
what is the value?
Every time you have to invest something you make a tradeoff between the invested monetary resources and the expected output. in science this is a hard exercise so i understand most of the time you do not want to look for data protection but try to think how much you depend on those data..
what happen to your research if a ransomware encrypt you data?
what happen if a attacker or a incident poison your data with some bias?
sometimes you can also be a “collateral damage” and not the direct target but, does it make any different to you?
if you are not able to put those consideration on the table you can start wonder what is the value of your job.
usually you set up things using what comes to your hands. this does not means crappy thing but…how much planning have you put on this?
have you considered what happens if you lost your data for a mechanical crash?
or for a hacking attempt?
of for a genuine honest mistake of your developer that write the code that manage your data?
or if your shared repository have to give space to something more important?
and what if someone tamper your data?
and what if someone copy your data?
and what if ….
this kind of scenarios are not your research field, I know, but nevertheless are connected to your job and you should start to consider them.
backup, storage, encryption, access management, Intellectual Property protection, data exchange, computational requirements… all those thing should be managed in a sound reliable plan that foresee current and future needs…
the problem of exchange
another aspect that is really critical is how you can be sure that the data you are exchanging are managed correctly.
the first point when there is an exchange between to point is to be able to trust the point itself. this basically means you want to exchange data with this subject, but may be not with another one (i know you are not all friendly one to the other).
so the point is how you can be sure you are sending the data to the correct source…
When you send something you should assure the counterpart that what he\she\it will receive is what you are sending, data should be managed in a non repudiation and anti tampering way, and also maintain the ownership if needed.
now they can be a genoma of a rock, a clinical trial result on the effect of mars over alopecia, a set of data on relationship between gun distribution and bird control rate, the climate data of the last 100 years in neverland…whatever… you need your data be recognized as:
2) truthful even after the transfer
the point here is that otherwise anyone can change assumption and therefore conclusion making you part of a fraud. you should always be able to say, they those were not my data….
and in a moment where politics and science collide once again this is not a minor issue.
food for thought
privacy and cyber security are sons of the current expansion of the digitalization. Those issues are not a side tough but real component of your everyday job even if you are a researcher in areas way far from cyber security, information technology or whatever.
you should also start thinking if those data should be kept public how to maintain, store and allow access to them in a consistent and secure way. Sure you can post them on facebook and tweet them but maybe, just maybe, this would not be the optimal solution.
And you should start thinking about those things before it’s too late. no matter who you are, what you do digital life is here for you too and you should start acting accordingly.
just think about it.
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It is time for research to think about security and privacy was originally published on The Puchi Herald Magazine