Last week, a hero who goes by the Twitter handle “Malware Tech” interrupted a major cyber attack. By recognizing the kill-switch in the virus code and registering a domain in its name, Malware Tech managed to stop the WannaCry ransomware attack from spreading further. In return, he asked for one thing only — his privacy.
It’s disheartening that Malware Tech’s request for privacy wasn’t honored by the journalists covering his heroic acts. Malware Tech had good reasons for not wanting his identity known to cyber criminals, but journalists went to extensive lengths to expose his identity. Even if Malware Tech had more mundane logic for wanting to keep his identity private, it should have been respected.
The WannaCry attack, allegedly perpetrated by a North Korean operative, reminds us that it’s much easier to inflict virtual harm than physical harm. Cyber criminals may be more cavalier about digital crimes than they would be about physical ones. Bullying online may be easier to enact, but it’s bullying just the same. At Keepsafe, we spend a lot of time considering the ways our digital lives should mirror the principles of our physical lives.
When it comes to privacy, sometimes human attributes like curiosity, fame, and jealousy get the best of us. We’ve also become accustomed to devaluing online privacy because the Fourth Amendment doesn’t really protect us in the digital world. Which brings us to doxing. Doxing is slang for publishing private information about someone online, sometimes for revenge. Constitutional or not, doxing is at its core a privacy violation.
Malware Tech was a victim of doxing. On the surface, researching and sharing Malware Tech’s identity may look like investigative journalism, maybe that was even the intent. But as a culture we need to rigorously examine our responsibilities and actions as they relate to privacy.
The key to understanding privacy is that each individual sets his or her own boundaries. If we’re to build trust with one another, we need to take control of our privacy and respect each other’s desire for it. Just because online privacy is easier to violate doesn’t mean doxing is right. And that’s one more reason that at Keepsafe, we’ll keep building simple products to help people protect their online privacy and their personal space.