Nothing on the internet is safe and everything can be hacked. Those are the lessons that ordinary web users should take from Russia’s alleged pilfering of emails from top Democratic Party officials. (See Main Stories.) Like many of us, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta thought the conversations he had on Gmail—about flammable issues such as Clinton’s closed-door Wall Street speeches—were private. But cyberspies were able to tap and share the contents of his inbox with the world. While most Americans don’t use email to discuss secrets that could damage presidential campaigns, most of us do put conversations and information online that could be highly embarrassing or financially destructive if revealed. Yet seduced by the convenience technology offers, we happily keep on granting interne t firms ever greater access to our lives. We have met the enemy, and he is us.
We let Facebook and Google scour our private messages, photos, and search queries so they can better tailor advertising to us. Our GPS-enabled smartphones allow Apple and other companies to track our location and movements. And now millions of people are installing always-listening smart speakers in their homes. (See Technology.) Devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home can play a song or turn on a Wi-Fi-connected room light with a simple voice request. In theory, smart speakers record only those commands, and everything else they hear is deleted. But hackers have already cracked into Wi-Fi baby monitors, and it seems inevitable that an enterprising cybercriminal—perhaps a spy in Moscow, perhaps a 400-pound guy in New Jersey—will figure out how to eavesdrop through these gadgets. That would give them access to a gold mine of information: at least once a week I yell across my apartment to my wife, “What’s the password for our bank account again?” Who knows who’ll be listening the next time she shouts back an answer?