The Avengers: Earth’s mightiest heroes. You can learn a lot from this team. Iron Man teaches us to recognize the consequences of our actions. The Vision shows that there is great humanity in all of us.
It’s time to consider what else these heroes can teach us—about technology, security, and privacy. (Minor spoilers for Marvel movies follow, but none for Infinity War.)
1. Research Is Important
The film: Steve Rogers has lived a long life, but he’s missed a lot too. At the start of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Sam Wilson advises the Super Soldier to listen to Marvin Gaye’s 1972 Trouble Man soundtrack: “Everything you missed, jammed into one album.”
Cap adds it to the list of things he needs to catch up on. Incidentally, this list is different, depending on which region you’re watching. Americans will see Steve Jobs and the Moon Landings included; UK viewers will be pleased to note the Beatles and the 1966 World Cup Final on there; while Tim Tams and Steve Irwin appear on the Australian version.
The reality: Your first line of defence is research. You need to keep updated with all the latest security and privacy threats.
However, it’s also important to know the very basic hacks that continue to plague us, albeit in different iterations of the same idea. Take sextortion for example, which is when someone holds NSFW material of you to gain leverage and get you to do something you don’t want to do.
But it’s more life-changing than ever because cybercriminals have combined the technique with another common threat: ransomware. Traditional ransomware holds your device hostage, insisting you pay up or lose all your files. Combined with sextortion software, it further threatens to send your explicit photos or videos to family and friends directly via email or SMS.
2. Create Backups
The film: “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.”
When faced by something terrifying, Doctor Strange went in prepared. In the conclusion of his titular 2016 film, he knew the one way to battle evil was by backing himself up.
The reality: We hate to admit it, but Arnim Zola had it right too. A technological genius, he lived on as an intelligent computer programme after his body failed him. We don’t encourage you to Hail HYDRA, but still think you should be like Zola and create a backup.
These have many purposes—most crucial is their ability to render ransomware almost completely pointless. Taking a back up of your whole system on a regular basis means a scammer putting your PC into lockdown is moot. They can threaten your documents all they like because you have them held securely elsewhere. If you are unfortunate enough to encounter ransomware, we advise you seek a professional to transfer all your data back from your backup.
You do need to disconnect the additional storage device after backing up your personal files, though; otherwise, ransomware can infect that too.
This is one reason cybercriminals still use that type of malware. The other reason is merely that comparatively few people actually carry backups on a regular basis!
3. Encryption Isn’t Absolute
The film: The Sokovian Accords divided the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War (2016), but that gap was widened by the work of Helmut Zemo. Daniel Brühl’s character learned the secrets of Bucky Barnes by decrypting the SHIELD files leaked online—in doing so, he drew a wedge between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark.
The reality: Let’s not underestimate encryption. It’s vital. For data to be sent or held securely, it needs some level of encryption. But let’s not overestimate it either.
This is one of the big myths about encryption. Nothing is impregnable. You use encryption all the time; HTTPS is an everyday example. Smartphone passcodes scramble all the data on your device. And so it all hangs on how strong your encryption key (i.e. password) is.
Furthermore, encryption isn’t a defence against all cyberattacks. Ransomware is still 100 percent effective. In fact, it uses encryption against you, by further encrypting your files. It can scramble your data once more, whether you’ve scrambled it before or not.
4. Limit What You Share
The film: Following SHIELD’s downfall in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Black Widow dumped all its secret files on the web. Natasha had formerly hidden behind aliases and fake histories. Now, with all that information readily available, she has to work out who she really is.
The reality: The wealth of personal details we put online has been subject of analysis since the public learned that Facebook data was harvested for political gain by Cambridge Analytica. Everyone seems shocked to find out the social network was gaining from users’ information. But if you’ve been paying attention, this has been happening for years.
If you’re worried about your own privacy, you simply must limit the amount of data you put on the internet. That’s not confined solely to Facebook. It applies to all social media. Without the proper precautions in place, Twitter is a goldmine for fraudsters looking for private details. Instagram also knows a great deal about you. Heck, all free services do!
5. Fight for Personal Freedoms
The film: Freedom lies at the heart of many superhero tales, but none more so than the Captain America films. Check out The Winter Soldier for a prime example of this. HYDRA had infiltrated SHIELD and the helicarriers were primed to eliminate potential threats to mankind.
But the Sentinel of Liberty stopped them. He could see the importance of choice, even a choice between good and evil. He could also see the ambiguity between the two. Steve normally views things in black and white, but this time, the gray area was too great to ignore.
The reality: Our personal freedoms are permanently being infringed upon. Look at all the ways the NSA snoops on us.
The sad fact of life is, you can’t always do something about it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try.
It’s like the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) where Tony asks how Steve and co. plan to defeat a seemingly-unstoppable foe. “Together,” Cap says. Tony cautions, “We’ll lose”. Cap’s reply? “Then we’ll do that together too.”
So make some noise. It’s better than rolling over and blindly accepting what’s coming. Working as a team can achieve great things. Enough uproar can even change government policy. This is the basis for groups like Anonymous, fighting for the privacies of peoples worldwide.
6. Don’t Underestimate the Little Guy
The film: Ant Man (2015) was a surprise hit. Except it wasn’t much of a surprise for long-term Marvel fans who know the character is fantastic. No, it was a surprise for the cinema-going public who thought a movie about a guy who could shrink would be naff. It proved the hero could be just as effective as any other Avenger.
The reality: The message here is not to solely anticipate the big-scale attacks like Thor wielding Mjolnir or Hulk flinging a car at your face. You have to prepare for the smaller threats too by putting into effect basic security measures.
You do this already—at least, we hope you do! If you don’t fall for emails from Nigerian princes with money to give away, you’re on the right step. Confidence in spotting fraudulent activity comes with experience, of course. Some emails scream “fake”, whereas others are increasingly sophisticated.
Again, research will help you in spotting the difference between what’s real and what will compromise your data.
You need to find security software you can trust too. It’s a very basic thing to do; however, some rely solely on Windows Defender or figure installing a virtual private network (VPN) will be just as useful as an anti-virus. But this simply isn’t the case.
7. Share, Share, Share!
The film: For much of Wakanda’s past, its technological advances were kept strictly for the benefit of its own citizens. It was only in Black Panther (2018) that T’Challa, the new King of the African nation, realized that you can’t blindly follow in the footsteps of your ancestors. He decided to help the world, breaking generations of tradition.
Tony Stark eventually decided to share his technology as well. It admittedly took some coercion, but for Iron Man 2 (2010), his friend, James Rhodes became War Machine. Peter Parker got an upgrade ready for Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). Plus, the Avengers regularly benefit from Stark’s advances, namely in their facilities in New York.
The reality: Users should benefit from developers, and the tech-savvy should help fortify other users’ systems.
What does this mean? It’s all about upgrades. This was a major factor in our assessments of the most secure mobile operating systems (OS) and subsequently of the most secure browser. It’s not solely about exploitations; the vital thing is how quickly developers issue patches for vulnerabilities.
For instance, Google Chrome sends out fixes in good time once a problem is discovered. Sadly 50 percent of users don’t update, but it’s easy: click on the vertical ellipsis, then Help > About Google Chrome. Finishing the process just requires a relaunch.
As for how users can help each other: spread the news about an exploitation and tell others when it’s important to accept an update. We all get lazy when iOS informs us a new version is available. Sometimes, it’s needed.
Then of course, there’s open-source software, notably Linux. The code is accessible, so you can check there’s nothing malicious going on. It also means individuals can contribute to the whole. It’s that sort of admirable teamwork that’s the foundation of the Avengers.
We can’t all save the universe from a major threat like Thanos. But there remains plenty of good we can do for each other—even if that’s ensuring the internet is a safe environment.
Just because you’ve not been bitten by a radioactive spider or can summon the power of Odin, that doesn’t mean you can’t fashion yourself into something Marvellous.