Cybersecurity in Digital Afterlife
Chahak MittalChahak Mittal

Cybersecurity in Digital Afterlife

Managing cybersecurity risks in digital afterlife

By Chahak Mittal, GRC Manager, Universal Logistics

The concept of the digital afterlife is not merely theoretical; it is a tangible and growing phenomenon.

From social media platforms to AI chatbots, there are many ways in which our digital footprints persist after death.

Several TV shows and movies have explored the concept of the digital afterlife, raising important questions about ethics, privacy, and the nature of grief.

  1. Upload(2020-present): This Amazon Prime Video series imagines a future where people can upload their consciousness to a virtual afterlife. The show explores the social, economic, and ethical implications of this technology.
  2. Black Mirror(2011-2019): This anthology series features several episodes that explore the dark side of technology, including the digital afterlife. For example, the episode “Be Right Back” follows a woman who uses a service to create a lifelike AI replica of her deceased boyfriend.
  3. Altered Carbon(2018-2020): This Netflix series is set in a future where human consciousness can be stored on digital storage devices called “stacks.” The show explores the implications of this technology for immortality, social inequality, and the nature of identity.

Consider the following data and real-life examples:

  1. Data Persistence: According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, as of 2021, 72% of American adults use social media platforms, and many of them have more than one account. These platforms host vast amounts of personal data, from photos to messages.

According to Facebook’s most recent investor’s report, Facebook currently has 2.895 billion monthly active users (MAUs). Tragically, some of these users pass away, leaving behind digital footprints that persist. The families of these users must navigate the delicate task of managing their loved ones’ online presence. According to a research paper from the University of Oxford Internet Institute published April 2019 in the journal Big Data & Society, the dead will eventually outnumber the living on Facebook.

  1. Posthumous Interactions: AI and natural language processing advancements have led to the development of chatbots and virtual avatars that can simulate conversations with the deceased.
  2. The AI company Replika offers a chatbot service that allows users to create AI friends. While primarily intended for the living, some have contemplated using such technology to interact with the memories of loved ones.
  3. Digital Immortality: The idea of digital immortality is emerging as a fascination for some. Projects like the Eternime app aim to create digital avatars that continue to learn from a person’s digital history. Eternime wants you to live forever as a digital ghost.

Microsoft introduced an AI chatbot designed to mimic the personality of a deceased loved one, based on text messages, emails, and social media posts. This experiment sparked both curiosity and ethical concerns. This chat bot can bring you back from the dead, sort of.

Cybersecurity in Digital AfterlifeCybersecurity Risks in the Digital Afterlife

Understanding the stakes of cybersecurity in the digital afterlife becomes even more critical when considering real-world incidents:

  1. Legacy Preservation and Privacy: The data left behind by individuals often becomes a target for cybercriminals. According to Norton’s 2021 Cyber Safety Insights Report, cybercrime cost victims nearly $1 trillion globally. Protecting digital legacies is essential to prevent unauthorized access.

In 2020, the Twitter accounts of several deceased celebrities were compromised as part of a cryptocurrency scam, highlighting the need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect posthumous online identities.

Further, PharMerica Healthcare disclosed that its systems were breached in early 2023 by an unauthorized third party, which resulted in the leak of the personal details of more than 5.8 million deceased people.

  1. Posthumous Identity Theft: The phenomenon of posthumous identity theft is increasingly prevalent. In 2021, the Identity Theft Resource Center reported that cases of identity theft increased by 72% compared to the previous year.

The family of a deceased individual discovered that the deceased’s personal information was used to open fraudulent bank accounts and take out loans, causing significant financial and emotional distress. Obituary Scams are becoming more common. Obituary scams, also known as bereavement scams, typically start with information gleaned from death notices in newspapers or posted online. Criminals harvest facts commonly included in obits — such as the deceased’s birth date, where the person lived and worked, and family members’ names — to start building a profile for identity theft.

Cybersecurity Risk Management

Cybersecurity in Digital AfterlifeAs seen above, our digital afterlife is becoming increasingly important, and with it comes new risks. Posthumous identity theft, unauthorized access to accounts, and misuse of personal data are all potential threats.

A risk management approach to protecting your digital afterlife can help you identify, assess, and mitigate these risks. Here are some key steps:

  1. Identify your digital assets and accounts. This includes everything from social media profiles to financial accounts to online storage services.
  2. Assess the risks to each asset and account. Consider the following factors:
  • What type of data is stored in the account?
  • How sensitive is the data?
  • How easily could the account be accessed by unauthorized individuals?
  1. Implement mitigation strategies to reduce the risks. This may include using strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and reviewing privacy settings.
  2. Create a digital estate plan. This document should outline your wishes for your digital assets and accounts after your death. It should also include contact information for your digital executor.
  3. Review and update your digital estate plan regularly. As your online presence evolves, so should your digital estate plan.

Conclusion

Cybersecurity in Digital AfterlifeOur online presence continues to grow exponentially, and so does the importance of protecting our digital afterlife. Identity theft of deceased persons is a growing problem, and it can have serious financial and emotional consequences for loved ones. The risk management approach can help you protect your digital legacy, privacy, and prevent posthumous identity theft. By taking these steps, you can ensure that your wishes are respected and that your loved ones are protected after your passing.

 

About the Author

Cybersecurity in Digital AfterlifeChahak Mittal is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Cybersecurity Governance, Risk and Compliance Manager at Universal Logistics. Chahak is deeply committed to knowledge sharing and community engagement. She has actively contributed to the cybersecurity ecosystem through her roles as a Judge at Major League Hacking (MLH) Hackathons and a dedicated Cybersecurity Teacher in the Microsoft TEALS Program.  Chahak’s active involvement in organizations such as the Cybersecurity Collaboration Forum and SecureWorld’s Detroit Advisory Board has been instrumental in her pursuit of staying at the forefront of industry trends and challenges. She has also channeled her insights into thought-provoking cybersecurity articles, published on SecureWorld, making a meaningful contribution to the field’s intellectual discourse. Chahak’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity is unwavering. She has actively participated in organizations like Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) and the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT), where she has championed the cause of gender diversity within the field. Her outreach efforts extend to interviews on prominent media platforms like PBS Channel and the Women in Technology podcast, where she has shared her insights to inspire young girls to consider cybersecurity as a viable and rewarding career path.

Chahak Mittal can be reached online at ([email protected]) and at her LinkedIn profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/chahak-mittal-cissp/

January 21, 2024

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