It's a position we've all been conditioned to accept: that anything stored on a computer or, even worse, the web, has the potential of becoming public. We generally understand that the "black-hat," or malicious, hackers are always a few steps ahead of the "white-hat" good guys, and that the internet is moving inevitably toward total information entropy, a state where all data is equally free and all our embarrassing photos are available to anyone.
And yet, recently, there have been a couple signs that the narrative is changing. Gaming site Kotaku recently pointed out that major video games, which are routinely cracked and distributed for free mere minutes after their launch, are increasingly unavailable through unscrupulous channels. Just Cause 3, a major release and therefore a prestige target for hackers, has so far gone a full two months without being unlocked. Chinese hackers, meanwhile, predict that they'll be unable to crack any games at all within two years.
More prominently, in the last week we've witnessed Apple's refusal to allow the FBI to access Americans' iPhone data. This follows a growing pattern of Apple positioning itself as the guardian of its users' privacy - a rift, perhaps, that they hope to highlight between themselves and obsessive data trackers like Google. It's not a bad business strategy, either. The fact that Apple's encryption appears to be unbreakable by anyone but Apple itself, however, is remarkable on its own.
The growing strength of encryption has a dark side, though. Earlier this week, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles found itself the victim of an increasingly common form of hacking; invaders breached their computer system and encrypted everything on the local network. Nothing was removed from the computers; the hackers had simply changed the locks, so to speak. They demanded a ransom of 40 bitcoins, or roughly $17,000, to unlock the data. And in the end, the hospital's security consultants opted to simply pay up; it was cheaper to give in than to try to crack the encryption.
So, are we headed toward a rosy future of total internet privacy? The hacking community is far too resilient to allow it. Even the examples cited above could be nothing but coincidental outliers on an otherwise steady trend toward anarchy. But it's important to think about how a changing internet could influence consumers' opinions on safety, sharing and personal data. If security does manage to improve, even just on a small part of the internet, we could see serious ramifications for everything from smart homes to self-driving cars - and perhaps even a reversal in the fates of physical media.