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Humans produce approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. Every time we post a selfie, make a purchase or even Google something, we grow this set of data and, in turn, our digital footprint — an individual’s log of digital activity on the internet. Every selfie, comment, social media account and piece of login information exists in the digital realm and, if not protected, can be easily accessed by online predators.
Recognizing this fact, many companies offer a method of security that is familiar to all of us NYU students: Multi-Factor Authentication. MFA is a double verification process that ensures there are no unauthorized logins into our accounts. Although perceived by many NYU students as an unnecessary hassle, it is becoming evident that in this digital age, security implementations like MFA are crucial to our protection.
After attempted hacks of NYU’s system in 2017, the university mandated the implementation of MFA across campus. This meant that in order to log into any NYU service or platform, such as email, Albert or NYU Home, students needed to use their phone to authenticate the log in. This service received mixed reviews across campus, with the biggest complaint being the required nature of MFA. Students claim that MFA shouldn’t be made mandatory as security is not a priority for everyone. However, despite the fact that this information and security may seem unnecessary, our information is a gold mine for hackers, and its protection is crucial.
Hackers have a plethora of tools at their disposal, which they use to attack our online data. From hacking into a corporate databases to installing malware on our computers, these hackers scour the internet for information that they can use for personal gain. With an attack every 39 seconds affecting 33 percent of the United States population each year, we are at a greater risk than we may think. While it may feel like we have nothing to hide that would be useful for hackers, they often look for one thing: passwords.
Knowledge of our passwords allow hackers to gain access to our emails, messages, social media accounts, bank accounts and more. While most hackers don’t personally gain from knowing the private details of our lives, the information they gain from accessing our accounts is often sold on the dark web — a clandestine, anonymous region of the internet home to criminal activity. Goods ranging from credit cards and login information to educational diplomas can be sold online for prices ranging anywhere from $1 to $1000. Deep in this black market, our information is hardly our own. Once stolen, the information may be worth even more than mere access to our personal accounts; hackers can use our information as a stepping stone to infiltrate encrypted passwords they would otherwise struggle to crack.
While we justify our digital footprint with claims that we have nothing to hide from hackers halfway across the world, our information serves as a commodity for them. To protect ourselves, we must implement security precautions like MFA. This is an easy way to prevent hackers from exploiting our information in both obvious and subtle ways. In an age where we joke about Big Brother, there is little awareness of the dangers inherent in surfing the web. While the uncertainty of our digital privacy appears most often in memes — in the form of quips like that of the “FBI guy” — it is important to recognize the inevitability of malicious internet usage and embrace security measurements like MFA, rather than treat them like a nuisance.
Serena Vanchiro is a junior studying Mechanical Engineering at Tandon School of Engineering.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 22 print edition.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Serena at [email protected]