Safeguarding Digital Privacy: Computer Security Flaw
with Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League
In 2018, major security flaws were discovered in nearly every mobile device, computer and server manufactured within the last 20 years, making them susceptible to hacking.
Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, shares how you can protect your personal data.
January 06, 2020
Hong: Researchers recently identified hardware security flaws that impact nearly every computer manufactured over the last 20 years. Hello. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Ellee Pai Hong. With your private data at risk, patches have been issued to better protect computers and servers. However, these are temporary fixes. Joining me to discuss a security flaw and what you can do to protect yourself is Sally Greenberg. She's executive director of the National Consumers League. Sally, thanks so much for coming in. Appreciate your time. This is pretty scary. Nearly every computer manufactured within the last 20 years. That's probably every computer in America, right?
Greenberg: Yeah, pretty much every computer has this flaw in it with hardware that's part of the chip that is built into the computer. And really consumers and businesses who are struggling because they're vulnerable now to hacking because of this engineering problem with the chip didn't know this was going on and now we have to figure out ways to deal with it and protect ourselves and protect the companies that have our very personal data from being hacked. So yes, this is a big consumer issue.
Hong: We've heard about viruses before, and we've downloaded software to actually fix those and protect your computers against those viruses, but this is already built into your computer?
Greenberg: Yeah, absolutely. This is not a virus. This is a design flaw that is in the hard drive, and it's in the hardware, not the software. Now, it can be fixed with a patch, but it slows your whole system down. And the problem was companies didn't know, consumers didn't know that this design flaw existed, and they were not told about it by the companies who design these chips. So now we're trying to do catch-up by having consumers be sure to download all of the latest patches, the latest updates. Not every consumer wants to do that because you pay a price for that because it's slowing our systems down. And also, there's strange things that happen sometimes when you do updates. I know I've experienced that before. So there are consumers who are resistant to that, but that also makes them vulnerable to hacking.
Hong: Yeah. With these patches, sometimes your system can slow down by up to 40%, which is significant. But I guess should the motto be better slower than sorry?
Greenberg: That's right. Yeah, you must download those patches to give yourself the kind of protection that you expect and need to prevent hacking. And certainly these companies have so much of our personal data. They've got our passport numbers, they've got our addresses and our cellphone numbers, and all that data becomes exposed when there's a massive breach. This has really come out in the open in the last year or two, and it's really an important consumer issue and we want consumers to know, download those patches. And if you want to be extra safe, you got to get yourself a new computer.
Hong: Which can be so expensive, though.
Greenberg: Yeah, and computers, we used to turn them over. Every two years, you get a new computer because all the software was updated. Then it became every four years. Now it's more like five to six years. So you can keep that laptop for a longer period of time, which is great for consumers because you don't have to spend all this money to invest in new laptops or equipment. However, it means that we're working off of these defective hard drives and hardware on our computers. So it's a wake-up call for consumers.
Hong: Yeah, it definitely is. But your efforts are not just toward making consumers aware of this. You want legislative change, you want change in business practices as well?
Greenberg: That's exactly right. Now, we expect businesses to have state-of-the-art equipment and state-of-the-art virus protections. We talked about that, but also state-of-the-art protections against any design flaws that might be out there. And we want them to let us know when there's been a data hack, and we want them to provide certain kinds of protection for us. And really these kinds of consumer offenses, I'll call them exploits of our data, really should be a thing of the past. We want legislation that is introduced in Congress, the Consumer Protection, Data Protection Act, which will prevent these kinds of things from happening because companies will be expected to have state-of-the-art equipment to prevent these massive hacks. And also we want the companies that design these chips, they need to let us know when there's a problem, and they need to let us know what to do about it. And I personally would like it, because I'm a consumer advocate, I'd like to be able to bring my computer back and have it exchanged for a design that doesn't have these flaws. We're not there yet, so what we do in the interim is we must download those automatic updates. So don't drag your feet on that, consumers. And secondly, make sure that if you are finding that things are too slowed down, you think about buying a new computer.
Hong: Yeah. So don't click "remind me later" or "ignore."
Greenberg: No, and we all do that. I'm right with you, I've done that too. But you're in the middle of something, you don't want to download it, but you do take some risks when you do that. So unfortunately, as is always the case, the burden is left onto the consumer, and it's a shame.
Hong: Just get it done. Sally Greenberg, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate your time.
Greenberg: Thank you.
Hong: And thank you for watching as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Ellee Pai Hong.