Between hackers and our government, it’s a scary online world

NATION by Nathan Raine

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, photo by Steve Hiscock

The Internet: Can’t live without it, but can we live with it?

We pay our bills online, post personal photos for hundreds of uninterested eyes to see, and Google how to make a PB&J. But as much as it’s a crucial resource in our lives, the Internet has also become a major threat — although one we rarely take time to consider.

Recently, Saskatoon played host to Connection 2015, a technology and security summit addressing the threats that the Internet, as well as mobility and cloud services, can pose. Connection is one of western Canada’s largest IT gatherings, bringing in over 400 leaders from the technology industry in Canada.

One leader is Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former intelligence agent at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the agency tasked with mass surveillance of Canadian citizens. He’s now CEO of the Northgate Group, a company that provides education and services to help protect corporations from espionage.

Juneau-Katsuya says that in the current federal election race, our leaders are failing to address a very important issue.

“[Internet security] should be a much bigger issue. One of the problems currently is that terrorism has taken the forefront of the news — and rightly so, to a certain extent. Terrorism is a great danger, but very few people will be affected by it. On the other end, the security of your information, the security of your computer system is imperative because now our lives have become very dependent on IT for everything we do. We have a lot of sensitive information out there.”

Juneau-Katsuya also sees danger in Bill C-51. Formally titled The Anti-Terrorism Act, the legislation gives vast new powers to  his former employer CSIS and other national security agencies such as the RCMP and CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) to collect, analyze and keep the personal information of all Canadians with very limited public oversight.

“I’m opposed to C-51, and many law enforcement officers are opposed to it as well,” says Juneau-Katsuya. “It’s being used for much more political reasons than operational ones. It’s a dangerous bill.

“One problem we have with the Harper government is that they’ve been passing many bills over the last few years that they know are not constitutional. But these bills will take five or six years, and a lot of money, for somebody to successfully challenge in the Supreme Court. Until then, they can do what they want because they’ve given themselves so much authority.”

The threat of your information being exposed publicly might seem remote, but massive security breaches are not uncommon. One recent breach that received huge publicity was the  marriage infidelity / scumbag Ashley Madison hack in July that leaked a huge amount of users’ personal information, which in turn caused scores of extortion cases, blackmailing and hurt feelings.

“The Ashley Madison [hack] absolutely tells us that nothing is safe on the Internet,” says Juneau-Katsuya. “You have to be very careful and assume anything could be exploited at one point or another. If you work with that, your reflex is going to be different: What you do, where you go, how you store things.”

If you think you’re safe because you’re just a clean-living, ordinary person with no controversial information to steal or any real reason to be targeted, think again — and beware your cell phone, says Juneau-Katsuya.

“The cell phone is the greatest surveillance device that currently exists in our society. Anything can be recorded. You have to realize there’s a brave new world out there.”

Threats are everywhere online, says Juneau-Katsuya. Common hacks include kidnapping email accounts, flooding and crashing servers and hijacking webcams and microphones to steal personal information.

So Mr. Expert,  how does one navigate this brave new world?

“Awareness is the only real way we’ll be able to protect ourselves,” says Juneau-Katsuya. “Be aware of what you keep on your computer. Be careful of who uses your computer, what websites you’re visiting,  and of not opening certain emails.”

Be aware of the personal stuff too, he adds. “You might have some special picture that you took of your girlfriend last year. Keep those pictures on a separate, private hard drive.”

The government claims that Bill C-51 is necessary to keep Canadians safe, but it clearly threatens our freedom  to navigate our “connected” lives in a free and fair way. And it’s a serious threat, says Juneau-Katsuya.

“Using a computer is like anything else — you have to follow the rules and be careful, or you can exceed the rules and suffer the consequences. Government surveillance wants you to do as much online as [possible] so they can collect as much information on you as possible.”

There are several movements out there to try to make the Internet a less invasive, more liberating place. The famous American whistleblower Edward Snowden is currently promoting a global treaty to curtail surveillance, declaring privacy a basic human right.

Asked if he could envision a safer, more private Internet one day, Juneau-Katsuya replies that if war can become civilized, then why not the net?

“We could one day come to a better place. Like war, it can become more civilized. After World War I, which was extremely bloody and savage, the nations got together to pass conventions that regulate how you do war. We established certain rules that made war more civilized. Maybe one day, I hope, we will come to an understanding that we will also have conventions of how to use the Internet.

“The Internet is so important to everyone’s life. If someone does something bad, even on the other side of the world, we will work together to regulate those things.”

That’s the hope, anyway. But for now, Internet users need to savvy to protect their privacy.