NOTE: This post was originally published on February 16, 2018
In 2016 and 2017, Lexie made some bold predictions about how the world of online privacy and information security might evolve. As 2018 is now in full swing, it’s time to update how these trends progressed in 2017 (or how they didn’t).
1. Prediction: A major financial crisis will make money worthless, and cryptocurrency will take its place temporarily
While we did not see a large financial crisis sweep the world in 2017, cryptocurrencies have experienced an unprecedented rally, increasing the value of the ecosystem to over half a trillion US Dollars.
Venezuela, in particular, has seen its currency continue to be less and less useful as inflation rates stay above 1000% in annual terms. Trading and mining Bitcoin has proven to be a lifeline for many Venezuelans, although it has also put them on the radar of authorities, who accuse them of stealing electricity and circumventing local laws.
Even outside of war zones and revolutions, financial systems grew more isolated in 2017. A new round of sanctions on Ukraine, for example, made it even harder for Ukrainians to receive and make international payments, driving Bitcoin adoption across the country.
Credit cards, wire transfers, and Western Union all still function for most of the developed world, but as the rest of humanity catches up and participates in global commerce, they become increasingly excluded from necessary financial infrastructure.
Whether a significant financial crisis is going to sweep the world in 2018 remains questionable, but with the last one occurring almost nine years ago, it’s getting likelier and likelier. At least, when the crash does happen, Bitcoin will be there to provide some temporary relief.
2. Prediction: Hackers Will Target Transportation and Electricity Infrastructure
When Petya swept across the world in June, it seemed to have originated in Ukraine, where Russian operatives used it in some sort of science-fiction cyberwar.
But Despite Petya’s status as the most substantial hack on public infrastructure in 2017, it might have been an accident—at least as a means to extract ransom payments from victims.
3. Prediction: Apple will have a big privacy scandal
Apple did not have a massive privacy scandal in 2017, but the VPN industry shook when the software giant removed all VPN apps from the App Store in China, fueling fears that Apple is increasingly becoming complacent in censorship.
The company also announced it would move the operation of its backup service, iCloud, to a local provider for its Chinese users, raising fears that the contents of chats, notes, and photo albums could be at risk of surveillance.
4. Prediction: Someone Will Hack a Big Bank
The greatest financial hack of 2017 was not directly with a bank, but the infrastructure suffered a big blow in the United States when credit score provider Equifax had their entire database compromised—exposing almost 150 million customers. The resulting identity theft risk will continue to be a headache for Americans for years to come and diminish the utility of credit cards.
During a Taiwanese virtual bank robbery, malware was used to reroute US$60 million worth of payments through international wires, though officials did eventually recover the money and arrest two suspects.
However, in probably the most embarrassing incident, banks around Poland were infected with malware through the site of the Polish financial regulator.
5. Prediction: We Will Have Another Big Surveillance Whistleblower
While we did not see the second coming of Edward Snowden, 2017 still saw some major leaks from the U.S. surveillance apparatus. The biggest was probably Vault 7, detailing the exact tools the CIA uses to target your laptops, smartphones, and TVs.
The notorious hacking group Shadow Brokers also resurfaced with details on how the NSA had infiltrated banking systems in the Middle East.
Another Shadow Brokers dump contained previously unknown and unfixed security vulnerabilities for Windows. Hackers wrapped ransomware around this exploit and were able to infect over 300,000 computers worldwide. North Korea was suspected to be behind the attack, but we must not forget that the NSA found and used the vulnerability against their targets too—failing to disclose the software exploits and fulfill their duty to protect the people.
What’s next? All of the above trends will accelerate in 2018
All of the above trends will continue to be relevant in 2018. Other predicted trends, like the advancement of Mesh networks, have been only quietly progressing, and their appearance in our daily lives still seems far out.
The encryption of all communications and data is well underway, and it won’t be long until we can say this process is complete, though security and privacy as a whole are challenges that will stay with us forever.