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Jeb Bladine: Threats lurking in digital convenience

Digital technology offers amazing speed and efficiency in personal, commercial and institutional pursuits. But it comes with risks.

I spent 20 years writing news on typewriters in a world without computers, fax machines, email or cell phones. It was time-consuming and tedious, but also glorious in its simplicity.

I adapted to a digital world. This week, my visit to Social Security began with a machine-generated number prior to a long wait for service. In that time, I silently conducted personal and business activities through texts, apps, email and Internet browsing, stopping occasionally for calls to and from that same pocket device.
Seen from my typewriter desks of yore, it would have seemed miraculous, and, indeed, it was. But at what cost?

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

My trip to Salem was just one of many aftereffects from a cybercrime invasion of my personal computer files. I detected the digital attack early and stopped the thievery — for now, at least — but the episode highlighted concerns about our digital world.

John Naughton, writing last New Year’s Eve in The Guardian, described early Internet as the opposite of our physical world – “a virtual space with no crime, warfare, violence, politics, espionage or government regulation.” However, he wrote, “the two universes merged to produce the networked world we not inhabit.

Our personal information has been confiscated, and our most vulnerable are targeted with sophisticated scams. The Russians needed only a tiny investment to inundate 100-plus-million American voters with political tricks. Children, knowing only a digital world, are developing lifelong patterns from a cyberspace brimming with personal and cultural threats.

For two years, we have endured a presidential Tweet-storm that assaults our senses with dubious content and offensive language. To see the iceberg beneath that tip, visit mirror websites Trump.news and Clinton.news, and contemplate the likely depth and breadth of that poison-pen network.

Many untruths, wrote Naughton, “find fertile ground on social media where tech platforms seem unable to cauterize lies.”

Terrorists have learned how to cripple companies with ransomware. This week, locally and nationwide, email bomb threats demand digital payments to avoid life-threatening detonations. Thursday, two Chinese hackers were arrested for targeting firms holding intellectual assets. We have to wonder about risks to electrical grids, financial networks, commercial stability and government systems.

Pining for the past won’t help, but I might trade that efficient waiting time at the Social Security office for my old, trusty Underwood typewriter.

Jeb Bldine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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