If you’ve ever swiped a credit card, filed a tax return, owned a smartphone, or voted in a presidential election, you’ve probably either been a victim of data hacking or worried about becoming one. This isn’t paranoia; it’s the new normal.
Our communications and transactions are increasingly digital—and that data, whether it’s a sensitive email, a bank deposit, or a vote, is often either not encrypted at all or available unencrypted to anyone who can hack into your server or computer.
Cybersecurity has become so important, says professor of computer science Anna Lysyanskaya, that the risk goes far beyond individuals. At stake is the security and functionality of the Internet—and our society. “The price for not using encryption,” she says bluntly, “is a stolen election.”
Indeed, election year 2016, when Russian hackers stole emails and other data from Democratic Party computers, was “a banner year for fraudsters,” according to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research. More than fifteen million consumers—one in sixteen U.S. adults—were victims of identity theft in 2016, up from about thirteen million the year before. In 2014, Target, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, JP Morgan, and Sony were all hacked, compromising millions of customers’ confidential information.