Columns, Opinion

MAHDI: On safety

As human beings, we like to gravitate toward situations that make us feel safe. We lock our front doors when we come in and out of our homes. We keep sensitive documents safely stored away. We insist that our friends text us to say they’ve reached home safely on the weekends.

And yet, when it comes to our security online, we are incredibly trusting of storing our information in “safe” corners of the web.

There is very little we do not do on the Internet. Especially in the case of the average college student, before you know it, your innermost information is stored in websites all over the place, protected solely by a combination of letters and numbers, which we invent to serve as a safeguard to our privacy. So one can imagine the repercussions when that sense of safety we take for granted is compromised by a virus, let alone one that has apparently plagued the system for two years. As the bug, dubbed “Heartbleed,” sent the media into a frenzy along with millions of consumers, Bloomberg reported yet another twist in the tale.

According to a story published Saturday, the U.S. National Security Agency was allegedly aware of this bug, and employed it as a resource to gather “critical intelligence.” If this information is accurate, it will only serve to complicate and re-ignite the debate over privacy and interests of national security. Consequently, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied any knowledge of the bug prior to this year.

Regardless of its purpose, the severity of the issue cannot be marginalised. Heartbleed is one of the biggest breaches of Internet security in history, affecting close to two-thirds of all websites. Upon its discovery a few days ago, passwords have been changed, private companies have had to deal with potential vulnerabilities and the entire Canadian government has suspended the ability to file taxes online. U.S. President Barack Obama has called a panel to review the NSA’s surveillance activities, namely to ensure that deficiencies in online secure systems are not exploited, but rather fixed.

But, these days, our safety is not entirely reliant on a quick password reset. Now, the planet is facing a calamity with no reset button in sight. Climate change has been on the international agenda for a long time, but with economic pitfalls and social issues rising in priority on the policy agenda, environmental perils are left largely in the dust.

On Sunday, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report which indicated that climate change could be contained, but at the cost of dramatic governmental action. According to a TIME article on Sunday, global greenhouse emissions must be reduced by 40 to 70 percent compared to 2010 levels.

Nevertheless, the good news is that change is already in motion. Countries such as Denmark, Germany and even areas of the United States are becoming more conducive to using renewable energy as a substitute to traditional energy sources. How the complex relationship between climate change activism and conventional policymaking plays out is unpredictable, but the ambiguity and inefficiency could prove costly to the safety of everyone on the planet.

And, in some cases, the want for safety is heightened as a result of danger and destruction. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the media relations operation concerning the “Dear Boston” exhibit at the Boston Public Library last week. Even though the bombings during the Boston Marathon were a year ago, the emotions of reading messages of solidarity and optimism were still fresh.

It is with sadness we accept that tradition of the Boston Marathon will never be the same again. Yet, knowing this city and knowing its limitless heart, you can be sure that support for the runners, survivors and for Boston will be insurmountable. That is why thousands will flock to the route this year unafraid, because with solidarity comes a self-proclaimed safety and security, owned, measured or monitored by no one but ourselves.

On Sunday, the Washington Wizards basketball team ushered in its newest member on a one-day contract. Amaris Jackson, a 10-year-old who suffers from renal cell carcinoma, a rare form of kidney cancer. Undeterred by her illness, she took advantage of her opportunity to be a part of a team she is passionate about. The human spirit of taking life by the scruff of its neck, creating your dreams and not allowing the world or fear or obstacles dictate your days. That’s the spirit of Boston, and may it stay that way for years to come.


Sofiya Mahdi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a former managing editor at The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected]


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