Here we are in the 21st century and customers are targeted in ways almost unimaginable just a few decades ago. In very short order, the internet has wrought a massive change upon humanity, that slowly, subtly, but inexorably moved us from customer, to user, to product, to a highly targeted number with money but no name.
No. Free. Lunch.
Advertising is not a relatively new phenomenon. Egyptians used papyrus to make sales messages and wall posters. Commercial messages were found in Pompeii’s ancient ruins and in ancient Greece, Rome, and Arabia, with some wall painting ads dating back to 4,000 BC in India.
The internet brought changes to the customer and seller relationship. Google gives away free applications to gather data from people who are no longer customers. They’re users, which makes them part of Google’s product, which uses data captured from people to target them with ever more, well, targeted messages.
When we buy something from Apple we become their customers, primarily as users of their products, which become our products, and Apple goes to great lengths to target that customer base and others with new products. Call it the circle of life.
21st century cave dwellers, meet 21st century technology. Google makes billions indirectly by giving away products and services in exchange for personal data culled from users, which becomes part of the product sold to advertisers.
That relationship made Google rich while it gave a few billion people access to free email, free apps, and a variety Android mobile devices. While that sounds simple enough from a transaction perspective, there is a growing trend that puts such users of products and services in the line of fire for ransomeware.
Ransomware is a type of malware that can be covertly installed on a computer without knowledge or intention of the user that restricts access to the infected computer system in some way, and demands that the user pay a ransom to the malware operators to remove the restriction. Some forms of ransomware systematically encrypt files on the system’s hard drive, which become difficult or impossible to decrypt without paying the ransom for the encryption key, while some may simply lock the system and display messages intended to coax the user into paying. Ransomware typically propagates as a trojan, whose payload is disguised as a seemingly legitimate file; thus, ransomware is an access-denial type of attack that prevents legitimate users from accessing files.
If it’s connected to the internet, a device can be tracked and hacked remotely, and held for ransom. Either pay up, or have your data destroyed. You’ve just become a target of ransomers. This type of ransomware has already infected computers and users around the world with many organizations being required to pay a ransom to gain back control of their infected– and blocked– computer systems.
Wait. There’s more. And it’s worse.
Many of today’s cars are internet connected and already there are examples of remote hijacking. Apple’s iPhone has a component known as HealthKit which helps users collect and store health information, sometimes from connected or nearby Wi-Fi enabled devices. How much of a stretch is it that someone with a pacemaker could receive a ransom demand? It’s not. Pay up, or your heart rate goes up and down so drastically that your health is in danger. In the age of Bitcoin and anonymous payments, it’s not an issue of if this will happen, but when.
Apple’s extreme curating of the App Store seems more prudent now, doesn’t it?
The technology is sufficiently porous that it’s likely that many millions of devices could be infected, attacked, and held for ransom; possibly all at the same time, and across many different countries. If the ransom is modest, say $10, it’s very likely that many targets– uh, device owners– would pay up. But multiply that amount times 50-million device owners and you can see why technology criminals are investing heavily in ransomeware.
Product brands often are about trust. You trust Coke. You trust McDonald’s. And based upon the growing ransomeware trend, Apple’s brand looks much more trustworthy these days, does it not?