Digital shadows: Deep, dark and potentially dangerous

A Facebook update here. A tweet there. And a party pic on Instagram just for good measure. Every day, we are creating and consuming new data. For the most part, this has become an innocuous pastime, as we develop and maintain new digital lives and personas. Yet as the amount of data that we divulge and devour increases in quantity, the dangers of our exploding digital universe are multiplying.

According to a new study by the International Data Corporation (IDC), the size of the digital universe will reach 40 zettabytes (ZB) by 2020, an amount that exceeds previous forecasts by 5ZBs. This marks a 50-fold growth from the beginning of 2010. IT specialists EMC have a stern warning: “The amount of data that requires protection is growing faster than the digital universe itself, yet levels of protection are not keeping pace.”

And as the countless stories of cybercrime and high-profile hacks remind us, data breaches can have devastating and widespread effects. EMC believes that only about half the information that needs protection has protection, and unsurprisingly, emerging markets have even less protection than mature markets.

“The lack of standards among ecommerce sites, the openness of customers, the sophistication of phishers, and the tenacity of hackers place considerable private information at risk,” the company says. “For example, what one retailer may keep private about your purchase, such as your transaction and customer profile data, another company may not and instead may have other data hidden… Yet intersecting these data sets with other seemingly disparate data sets may open up wide security holes and make public what should be private information.”

In other words, as consumers, we are all vulnerable. And as someone who recently fell victim to major credit card fraud, I can testify as to the immense amount of time, money, frustration and loss of productivity that even small crimes engender. The question is: Are corporates keeping pace with the rapid changes in our digital universe? If local cyber fraud statistics are anything to go by, it appears not. “Our digital universe in 2020 will be bigger than ever, more valuable than ever, and more volatile than ever,” cautions EMC. Are we ready to walk into this deepening digital shadow?

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