Are metaverses of the future safe? As we step closer into a merger of our digital and physical realities, users are compelled to ask this question from Big Tech companies that have remained apathetic to user safety.
The gamification of our lives that began with a “like” on Facebook is now hoping to disrupt how we perceive reality. From Facebook’s metaverse flavoured name-change to Apple’s upcoming future-ready glasses, it appears that iconic companies that have defined the digital realm are more than ready to cash in on the hype.
We’ve definitely seen how social media giants can negatively impact the quality of human life on different fronts – election engineering to shaping political discourse. But what can individual users to keep themselves safe as we head towards the inevitable? Serguei Beloussov, the founder of Acronis – a company that specialises in data backup and protection software believes the biggest threat of metaverses may not be to users but to our computers instead. In saying so, Beloussov is simply stating that how we treat our machines is what defines our safety on virtual reality platforms.
In conversation with Indiatimes, the former CEO of Acronis and the incumbent Chief Research Officer of the company, Serguei Beloussov (more commonly known by his initials SB) said that now is the time to start taking the health of our computers more seriously. “[Metaverse] just makes computers more important and makes the health of your computer also important, not just the fact that it’s alive or dead.”
The spillage of current threats into the metaverse
On Meta’s Horizon Worlds, women are already complaining about harassment and sexual abuse. The biggest worry is that when Big Tech companies haven’t taken enough steps to curb such behaviour on more controllable web 2.0 platforms, how can we expect them to extend the same courtesy to web 3.0? According to Beloussov, we need to pull our socks up and secure our systems with an impenetrable armour to protect our assets in whatever metaverse we choose to log in to. “It’s about somebody confusing you to do something which you didn’t want to do, including in the metaverse which might at some point threaten your assets,” he told us.
“The ransomware will get more sophisticated.” In Beloussov’s words, “ransomware” was/is currently about access to your information but “in the future, it could be about modifying your information, whether that information is correct.” It’s like waking up in a different metaverse than the one you went to sleep in but not knowing that things in our digital home have been rearranged by hackers.
What’s the worst hackers could do, you wonder? Quite simply, they’ll begin the demise of your system and networks by “stealing the performance of your computers… for some calculations and computations.” The model has been tested by cryptocurrency miners who hack into systems of unsuspecting users to make their own work more efficient, essentially computing the theft of your system’s performance.
The higher the rate of metaverse adoption, the wider-ranging the threats would be. Our usage will also erupt on the metaverse, as Beloussov rightly pointed out. From our current average of 5-6 hours a day, once in the metaverse, our digital immersion could shoot up to 10-15 hours each day. “There are many more humans inside the metaverse at all times.” That, according to Beloussov “opens up [new] opportunities for cyber criminals.”
Web 3.0: Moving from slow threats to fast threats
In the current digital landscape, “slow threats” are the ones we need to look out for. Beloussov went on to explain – “it’s where you have an organisation or even a family where several people do different things… Each of them by itself is not dangerous but the combination of them generates a threat and these type of challenges are hard to catch because they don’t happen in in one step.”
“Fast threats”, too, are shaping up to be dangerous, especially with 5G adoption in the mix. “The networks [of hackers] are much more responsive,” Beloussov said, while adding that “a lot of the general-purpose infrastructure is not equipped to address such threats.”
Machine learning, too, is creating a barrage of fresh threats for a civilisation deeply enmeshed into the digital world. What can we do? From the eyes of a security visionary like Beloussov, we need vulnerability assessment and penetration testing. Unfortunately, our infrastructure is not keeping up with the threats. “If you can get a virus every day, you need to test every day. And that’s what we do with Covid. But we don’t test every day for tuberculosis because it’s not that common.” Essentially, we need better preparedness within our preexisting infrastructure for dangerous threats.
Beloussov’s advice to metaverse newbies
What should a user do before logging into the metaverse? “They need to make sure that their device is safe,” Acronis’ founder Beloussov said. Topping it off with a vulnerability assessment software and automatic penetration testing tools that could add another layer of security would do wonders for user safety.
Beloussov believes our safety on metaverse isn’t about being “fully safe” but rather about being safer than any virtually everyone else. The lower you are on a metaphorical vulnerability list, the better chances you’ll have of safety on metaverse.
Do we still need anti-viruses and anti-malwares to protect our personals PCs and Macs? The straightforward answer is – yes! As Beloussov put it, while Microsoft and Apple may be doing a decent job at patching threats, “the criminal side is becoming more sophisticated.” For Big Tech companies like Microsoft and Apple, the conflict between ease of access and protection of devices will continue to co-exist so dangerous malware aren’t going anywhere, nor should your anti-virus.
Juxtaposing the need for anti-viruses with our real world societies, Beloussov said the following – “In a well-functioning, very restricted society, you don’t need to have any security but that comes with a lot of privacy [concerns] and potentially the loss of human rights.” Beloussov also suggested that a restriction-heavy approach will not assist the adoption of tech that powers metaverses.
“There is a balance and the balance is moving.”
At the crux of this conversation is the fact that each user needs to step up their game, take ownership of their own safety, and prepare for an immersive metaverse experience. Should we worry about brain chip interfaces along the lines of Neuralink that could make metaverses permanent? Not really, according to Beloussov, for Elon Musk is an “amazing guy” but even Tesla is not “driven by everyone yet.” Essentially, we’re still quite far (10 years, according to Beloussov) from living in a Black Mirror episode.