Is there paper in our future?

Have you voted yet in the presidential elections? If not, make a point of doing your civic duty and cast your ballot this coming Tuesday. Even though our votes may not sway an election (although they may – remember when mayoral primary candidates were exactly tied, or the few votes in Florida that determined the 2000 election?), it is a responsibility we should take seriously.

One fringe benefit of voting is that it gives us “complainer’s rights.” If you do not care enough to vote, then why should anyone take your complaints seriously? Some people abuse their complainer’s rights. But that’s another column :).

The subject for today’s column is not really the elections. My focus today is the security of our online doings. Even if you are not online, this column relates to you.

Let’s begin with cyber-attacks. A recent New York Times article reported, “The Justice Department on Monday unsealed charges accusing six Russian military intelligence officers of an aggressive worldwide hacking campaign that caused mass disruption and cost billions of dollars by attacking targets like a French presidential election, the electricity grid in Ukraine and the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“Prosecutors said the suspects were from the same unit that helped distribute stolen Democratic emails in the 2016 election.

“’…No country has weaponized its cybercapabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,’ said John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security.”

Let’s hope that America’s election process remains secure for this coming election and doesn’t fall victim to Russian spite. If our vote tabulations were deemed unreliable, it would create chaos and indecision – and precipitate a crisis of confidence. If such a thing ever occurred – and I hope it never gets to this point – we might find ourselves returning to paper ballots counted by hand.

The potential for chaos precipitated from undependable election counts is not the only cyber danger that could lure us back to hard copy documents and manila folders. Before those of you who hate computers applaud, remember this: such a return would mean rising expenses and probably begin a serious inflation spiral, maybe even a recession. It costs companies money to hire secretaries and clerks. Since companies exist to make money, consumers ultimately foot the bill.

Finland is experiencing an awful time of it because hackers have absconded some very personal files.

According to theguardian.com, “The confidential treatment records of tens of thousands of psychotherapy patients in Finland have been hacked and some leaked online, in what the interior minister described as ‘a shocking act’.

“Distressed patients flooded victim support services over the weekend as Finnish police revealed that hackers had accessed records belonging to the private company Vastaamo, which runs 25 therapy centers across Finland.

“Many patients reported receiving emails with a demand for €200 [$236] in bitcoin to prevent the contents of their discussions with therapists being made public.”

And, of course, who knows what further “installments” might be required later? We might describe this as the ball-and-chain price for succumbing to a blackmailer’s demands.

According to the Bangkok Post, “Security experts reported that a 10-gigabyte data file containing private notes between at least 2,000 patients and their therapists had appeared on websites on the so-called dark web.”

That’s what happens when you don’t pay up.

Blackmail, ransomware, hacking, manipulating elections – all these things may undo the amazing sufficiency of internet communications. I love it that all my doctors, for example, can see all my medical reports. But I don’t know if I want strangers gaining access to them.

Online banking and a host of other convenient services can only survive if we stay ahead of the hackers and online criminals. So far, we are.

You can be sure Uncle Sam is working hard to prevent interference with the coming election, which is just another reason why you should respond in kind by making the effort to vote. Happy voting!

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