My assumption is that anything that is transmitted via the Internet is accessible to someone other than the intended recipient. I understand that my emails could wind up as fodder for New York Times articles and my Facebook photos could wind up gracing the front page of USA Today.
My warning to our children is this: "Assume that, if you post it, everyone will see." Even texts or Snapchats sent to their friends' smartphones could find new life one day on billboards. Maybe the recipient doesn't have his or her device in hand, but its screen is visible to others on a table; possibly someone will take a screenshot today and decide at a later time to share it with the world. In any situation, the assumption should be this: If it is on the Internet, it is -- or soon could be -- available for all to see.
The next logical step is to understand that others might try to gather our information for their use, whether for personal reasons, political campaigns or nationalistic objectives.
Of course they are.
This week, CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, posted about China and Russia amassing personal info seized in hacks for the purposes of counter-intelligence. He wrote, "Chinese and Russian intelligence services are collecting personally identifiable information on a grand scale so they can target American government workers for counter-intelligence, a U.S. official told CNN Tuesday."
Of course they are.
"The foreign spy agencies use a massive database analysis to combine and cross-reference information obtained from cyberattacks on targets ranging from the Office of Personnel Management to the cheating website Ashley Madison to identify and potentially compromise operatives."
Of course they do.
While we may live in a country where the government recognizes freedom of speech, privacy and the rule of law regarding what information can and cannot be accessed and by whom, other nations play by different rules. If we pretend that they live by our rules, we are only deluding ourselves.
Governments are hiding their compilation of private information by letting others do their dirty work, according to Sciutto. They are using "non-government entities, including hacking groups and private companies, to infiltrate U.S. systems and analyze the collected data," he wrote.
Of course they are.
Israel is leading the field of cyber security, according to Peter Suciu, a contributor to Fortune Magazine who writes frequently about technology.
"A regional power devoted to ensuring its own survival, Israel has burgeoned into a high tech epicenter built around Internet security, anti-virus software, and other cyber defense technologies," wrote Suciu this week.
"Much of this is an extension of its self-reliance, and the added fact that since the creation of modern Israel, the nation has faced enemies on its borders. 'The challenging environment Israel faces in the Middle East in the physical world has reflections also on the cyber world,' says Dudu Mimran, CTO of the Cyber Security Research Center at Ben-Gurion University, located in Beer Sheva, Israel. 'Security is a subject that can be taught theoretically, but nothing is a substitute for a real hands-on experience and we've got lots of it.'"
Let's recap the reasons why Israel has taken a leading role in the field of cyber security: the desire to ensure its survival in a neighborhood where it is surrounded by enemies, a history of self-reliance, and hands-on experience.
Possibly, with the headlines about the Ashley Madison attack, and the understanding that none of the mountains of data transmitted daily via the Internet is safe, we will understand that, in the cyber-world, our enemies do surround us.
Gathering secrets and data is not new or news, "Hostile authorities intercepting communications is as old as written correspondence itself," Christian Whiton, former State Department senior adviser emailed me regarding cyber attacks. "Recent developments are just a modern twist, and the Chinese and Russians are particularly good at stealing communications."
We can learn from the Israelis: We must rely only on ourselves; our survival depends on how seriously we take this threat and how well we engage in this ongoing battle.