Could you get fired like Marty McFly in Back to the Future 2?

Security & Privacy

Many people have fond memories of the Back to the Future saga – a series of movies chronicling the adventures of Marty McFly through time. In the three films, he uses a time machine to travel to various points in the past and future, encountering various challenges that he must overcome in order to return to his correct time of 1985.

In the second film, he travels from 1985 into the future, arriving on October 21, 2015. That’s today.

Back to the Future 2 has spawned some interest regarding the way it portrayed the future, which is now our present. Some of the ideas, such as the efficient weather service, remain pure science fiction.

But others are slowly becoming reality. For example, Nike has filed a patent for shoes with automatic laces very similar to the ones sported by McFly in the film. And a company based in California worked with Tony Hawk to design a working hoverboard similar to the ones used by different characters in the film.

One scene stands out for different reasons though – it forecasts the erosion of privacy while communicating online. It’s an entertaining scene (I particularly enjoyed Needles), but given the increasing adoption of Smart TVs by consumers, it’s easy to imagine this scenario coming to a living room near you.

According to F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan, the idea of having your boss eavesdrop on you isn’t so crazy. In fact, they already have the tools they need to make this a reality – although it probably won’t happen to you in the same way it did to McFly. Here’s a few observations Sean made about the scene.

  1. “In Back to the Future 2, your boss intercepts your call. In real life, your friend shows him your Facebook comments.”

Sensitive information gets posted to social media channels all the time. A careless Facebook post is more likely to cost you your job, or at least some embarrassment, than having your calls intercepted by your boss.

  1. “In Back to the Future 2, AT&T posts information about you during your calls, like your favorite food. In real life, you post pictures of food you like to Instagram.”

Social media profiles contain lots of personal information, and lots of communication services are beginning to offer user profiles. This makes little personal details like this readily available. It’s completely realistic to assume these details are known to people you communicate with online, even if you don’t know the person well.

  1. “In Back to the Future 2, McFly joins Needles’ scam by swiping a card. In real life, you probably forget your password and don’t get pressured into joining Needles.”

But soon there’ll be an app for that.

Apple Pay and other select apps are beginning to use fingerprint scanning as a form of authentication. As these technologies become more prominent, so will apps and services that use them.

As for having video calls intercepted, that’s currently relatively simple to do (as demonstrated by last summer’s Great Politician Hack), but Sullivan says there are still much easier ways to lose control over information.

“It’s trivial for someone to intercept and monitor VoIP calls, but your boss isn’t very likely to bother doing that when there’s so many other ways to find out what you’re up to.”

[ Image taken outside F-Secure Headquarters 10 Min Ago ]


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