Health Warning: Data can kill

As technology becomes more embedded in people’s daily lives we are constantly generating data. Phones collect information on people’s interactions, buying habits, food intake, exercise habits, health and even general thoughts about the world.

The sheer amount of personal data being constantly collected is difficult to convey and at times it is being passively collected, without our knowledge. Often software development kits are bundled into seemingly benign apps, collecting and assessing your data inputs and giving them to third parties such as Google, Facebook or other consumer brands.

Uses for this data are numerous including enhancing our online shopping experiences, and tailoring online content through the use of predictive analytics, inevitably making daily life easier. However at times this data, some of which users may be unaware has been collected and stored, can be used to violate our privacy or, as happened in one case, potentially expose state secrets.

A fitness app recently released all the data collected on its platform as a data visualisation map. While in theory the map innocently shows all recorded exercise, it has also been found that the heat map can be used to identify soldier’s exercise routes and habits in conflict zones as well as high security domestic bases.

This sort of data could be used by hostile actors, in particular criminals and terrorists, in order to plan and execute an attack. Attacks in recent years have been conducted by a young, tech aware generation who naturally turn to openly available, everyday applications to help them plan attacks. For example a 2016 trial saw evidence that a plot to conduct a ‘drive-by’ attack against soldiers in West London was planned with Google Street view to identify targets and routes.

Traditional hostile reconnaissance presented an opportunity to detect and deter an attacker, now a significant amount of planning can be done online. From fitness apps that show a target’s movement patterns, to social media platforms that identify potential weak links in an organisation. Data collection can be utilised in a smart way by hostile actors from the safety of their own home, behind their seemingly anonymous device.

As an increasingly large amount of personal data is collated by software and applications, user’s, be it individuals or organisations, need to carefully balance the need to be integrated into a digitally dependent culture against how all kinds of data can be used by criminals and terrorists to cause harm.edded in people’s daily lives we are constantly generating data. Phones collect information on people’s interactions, buying habits, food intake, exercise habits, health and even general thoughts about the world.