The Unpatched Mind – How to Get Mental Security in A Digital Landscape
Because our minds are software, they need to be regularly updated and patched for vulnerabilities. Here are a few techniques.
What is an unpatched mind?
First, view your body as hardware
If you’re a Star Wars fan (and you probably are), then you know what the HK-47 droid had to say about humans. He called us meatbags. It’s a term with a long history in SciFi circles. It appeared in Futurama as well.
HK-47 meant it as an insult, but it’s really far from reality.
All scientists agree on the fact that the body, human or otherwise, is a remarkable construct, one that runs with better than clockwork precision.
Even our brains function with EEG, electrical impulses firing in all directions and carrying tremendous amounts of information.
So perhaps, if HK-47 was better inclined towards us, he’d call humans meaty droids or meaty computers.
Sounds yucky but funny, right?
It also sounds true, because our minds are the prototype for software and what software wants to become.
After all, the entire machine-learning buzzword and phenomenon started because we wanted programs capable of learning information just like we do.
And because our minds are software, they also need to be regularly updated and patched for vulnerabilities.
Read on and see what you need to patch your brain and what attacks against your well-being look like.
Or smell like, because we’ve seen pyramid schemes designed to both sell essential oils and steal personal data. So let’s dive in.
Now, treat your mind as software
Every document you ever wrote is the fruit of your mind’s labor.
Every photo you take with your phone or camera is a memory from your brain preserved in ones and zeros.
Every dollar you spend online or offline shopping is a dollar you made by working.
Reduced to its essence, working is the process of basically renting out your cognitive capacities to an employer in exchange for a paycheck. So respect your mind and apply the latest security patches because, in this day and age, it’s critical.
An unpatched mind could be a useful term to describe a lot of the problems affecting people nowadays, especially in the digital context. We used it because we’re cybersecurity specialists and, well, the regular vocabulary is a bit different.
“All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
Warns a former Google employee.
Think of a young, bright girl exposed to social media’s constant scrutiny.
Think about a programmer who spends so much time watching the news and worrying about the fate of his project that his mind starts going into a negative spiral and actually has an effect on that project.
Think of the pressure an older worker faces when having to search for a new job in a landscape constantly shifting its rules and requirements.
A patch against fear
In meaty droid terms, fear is a security risk that will drive you to click a malicious, badly designed banner promising virus removal from your PC.
- It will drive you to visit a dating website that’s actually a phishing attempt to capture your credit card data.
- It will make you spend a lot of money on cryptocurrency and, because of the FOMO phenomenon (fear of missing out), it might just make you skip the warning signs and head to troubled waters.
- It will lead to hopelessness, which, according to countless experts, is the reason for bad security practices and incidents like ransomware attacks and so on.
- It will cause stress and that stress will have lasting effects on your hardware.
- It will make you susceptible to influence.
If you give in to fear of technology, of ads, of conspiracies and so on, you will be vulnerable. If you know what makes you afraid, you’ll know exactly what and when to protect.
Let’s see a basic fear in action
For decades, multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) have preyed upon women, religious persons, and individuals from underdeveloped areas. The phenomenon has been extensively documented and yet, once an MLM scheme falls, another 3 take its place. How can that be?
Unpatched minds that have fallen prey to fear. In other words, they’re emotional vulnerabilities exploited through insidious messages.
I’ve seen a close relative falling into selling cosmetics, essential oils and laundry detergents from various MLM schemes. Once she tried to convince me my mental health (!!!) would improve with a cleaner house. Fair, but she was promoting a vacuum cleaner that was more expensive than a newish car.
After being subjected to a dozen pitches, I noticed what she was saying was less about the products themselves, and more about what they would do for me as a person.
It’s a basic marketing technique but it’s so pervasive and insidious, all of us should be aware of it. Here’s a not so funny gif, made by someone selling these techniques to other marketers.
All messages started with tangible benefits like “Pay off your debts” or “Get a bit of side cash”. But they soon escalate to target the emotional side by saying “Be empowered” or “Secure your independence”.
While I do not believe the MLM salesman necessarily has a nefarious intention, I do consider messages like “Be empowered” to be personal attacks. They’re cushy pillows hiding sharp and cutting knives.
In a normal conversation, a friend advising you to secure your independence is a lovely thing. If that friend advises you with the intention of selling something or recruiting you, it becomes troubling.
See, it’s undeniable women have had trouble establishing meaningful careers. Here comes the individual pretending to assuage her fears of losing her independence, but actually slowly poking at those vulnerabilities. “Earn more cash to be less of a burden” or “Maintain a bit of independence in your situation.”
Their lines are smoother, but this is the message and vulnerable persons fall for them hook, line, and sinker. It’s a very old marketing trick of identifying pain points. And applying pressure.
Nowadays, another profitable target is tech-savvy individuals who, for various reasons, lost the boat when it came to investing in bitcoin. Sensing that fear of missing out, a lot of pyramid schemes and straight-up Ponzi schemes have popped up. They promise those people another opportunity at huge returns.They spread malware, steal funds and manipulate the markets.
The individuals at the top of such schemes get there due to their knack for sensing vulnerabilities of the mind. Then apply gentle pressure juuust where it hurts.
In their wake, a lot of people who signed up to be consultants/ agents/ investors etc lose money, reputation, and precious self-confidence.
In the past, unbiased information was hard to come by. Nowadays, we’re lucky to access any information we need in a few seconds. And yet, pyramid schemes and other similar nefarious enterprises don’t show signs of going away. They’re here to stay as long as we allow fear to rule our decisions.
We haven’t found the magic bullet for that yet, but we found the best first step to patch fear. It involves embracing fear, meeting the enemy head-on and avoiding “confirmation bias”.
With the current scandals on how social media ads influenced political events and how technology can be leveraged to effectively brainwash the masses, it’s even more important to step outside your comfort zone.
If you believe something to be true with all your heart, research the opposition. It will hurt to see others slamming the thing you believe in or you love deeply (it’s human nature, after all), but it will make you stronger.
With the rise of the “fake news” spreading like wildfire through social media, research and viewing alternate viewpoints is of the essence.
In cybersecurity, a lot of people are tricked daily by fake antivirus or banners promising virus removals. They work precisely because the user fears a virus infection and will quickly click on the “remedy”.
All this could be avoided if the user keeps their cool and spends a few extra minutes researching the software before downloading or buying.
Here’s another example that shows how researching the opposition will benefit you in all aspects of life.
If you love watching a TV show, write its name in Google and add “sucks”. You’ll probably find a few trolls but also a couple of great articles. You will also get a Eureka moment, I guarantee it.
A coworker has probably said that your show sucks and maybe even given a few reasons to why he thinks that. He wasn’t very convincing, you probably thought he was rude.
Here is what happens when you research the opposition.
If you google “My show sucks”, you might end up on a piece written by a great editorialist. That piece will dissect your show into a million little pieces. He might not sell you his viewpoint, but you’ll definitely leave the piece with better insight into why a coworker said your show sucks. Next time you’ll maybe have a more productive discussion with him or, at least, be less irritated with his opinion.
What’s certain is that you just patched your mind against irritation.
And also upgraded your mind with more information, information that will act like an antivirus against annoyance or actual aggression.
After all, countless experts blame echo chambers as the reason for a lot of modern evil.
In the next chapter, I include one of the worst quotes with the most horrible implications to come out of the last US presidential election. It particularly highlights the dangers of echo chambers and why alternate viewpoints are mandatory. Especially if you want to patch yourself against unnecessary anger and irritation!
Basically, don’t be this guy.
This will also pave the way to the next vulnerability, the one you should close before proceeding online.
A patch against intrusion
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.”
No, this doesn’t mean putting yourself in the echo chamber or the comfortable bubble of ignorance. It means selecting your information sources carefully and treating your brain like the advanced meaty computer it is.
If you know the answer to the question “ What is cybersecurity?” then you probably know its core tenets to stay safe online.
- Protect your computer with an antivirus that keeps your information safe.
- Add another protection layer by installing a proactive tool to scan for the malware too new for your antivirus to recognize.
- Always patch software to close its vulnerabilities and ensure optimal protection.
- Stay up to speed with how the technology you use actually works.
Follow the cybersecurity tenets for your mind as well.
“The average person consumes more than 34 Gigabytes of data outside of work each day. It amounts to around 100,000 words consumed via print, the Web, television and radio.”
Oh, by the way. The number above is from a 2009 study. What do you think is the correct figure today?
How much of those words are quality words?
At home, you’re scrolling through enormous amounts of information and you’re bombarded by ads. Once you step outside your door there are billboards waiting for you and newspaper headlines sounding the Doomsday bell.
If you’re shopping, your phone is sending location data to advertisers so they can target you with more relevant ads.
If you’re unlucky to live in a surveillance state, advertisers will serve malvertising or the government itself will try to spy on your habits via ads.
If you live in a developed nation, the government will probably do the same thing. Or a rival government.
This recently happened in the US during the elections, where a tech giant was accused of targeting ads on Facebook and Twitter to convince people not to go out and vote.
Those responsible bragged about the success of their social media campaign.
“We have three major voter suppression operations under way. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.”
On the other front, Russian troll farms tolled day and night to influence popular opinion on social media.
“Savchuk told me she shared an office with about a half-dozen teammates. It was smaller than most, because she worked in the elite Special Projects department. While other workers churned out blandly pro-Kremlin comments, her department created appealing online characters who were supposed to stand out from the horde.”
So you see, maybe you’re comfortable with targeted ads that just sell you better shoes or smarter devices.
Are you comfortable with targeted ads that want to depress you enough so you don’t leave your home and exercise your rights?
This is just in the context of politics. However, have you noticed the alarming rise of wellness tips, self-improvement articles and “educational” webinars in your feed?
Yes, they’re mostly shared by your friends. Did they create them? Probably not.
You see, the entire ecosystem of search engines and finding information online is (or was) built by the demand of consumers. In the early days the tech was weak and the demand for content bigger than the supply. People wanted houses but there were few houses to go around. Once marketing got more involved, things changed and not necessarily for the better.
Now, there are entire content mills that scan Google reports for any hint of demand. Then they flood the Internet with meaningless information just so they will have space for more ads. Bots retweet those ads on fake social media profiles.
Bots build houses so that people randomly wander into them and get tricked into seeing an ad for another house, while another bot steals their info. Writers meanwhile suffer through a combination of low paying jobs from content mills or their own work being drowned in a sea of useless information. Users fare no better.
This author has more than 1 million books to his name, all of them “written” through bots and algorithms.
Watch him in action detailing his process, patented in 2007. How do you think the tech looks like today?
“At least 55,000 of the accounts use the names, profile pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors, according to a Times data analysis.”
Source: NYTimes on the rise of “follower factories” who steal people’s information to create armies of social media bots
We’re not against advertising, social media or technology or the mixture of all of these. That would be a dangerous combination of being a Luddite, paranoid and a bit hypocritical.
We’re humans, geeky and with a mission to do good that doesn’t stop to our own security product.
In cybersecurity terms, adware is one of the biggest threats to consumers, with billions of malicious ads being designed to deliver infections, steal credit card info and more.
As it is with designing our own product, we prefer a proactive approach to protecting our customers. That design philosophy stems partly from viewing the mind as a highly precious piece of software, one that holds a lot of information and needs constant support.
An unpatched mind can develop issues by being bombarded by low quality or insidious information, just like your browser without an ad blocker will probably assault your eyes with at least 10 banners per page. So what to do?
Our advice would be to constantly ask yourself these questions:
➡What is valuable?
➡Are you actually getting valuable information for your needs or just absorbing a stream of questionable insights?
➡Is all the advice designed to help you or is it just trying to monetize your attention?
Here’s an example:
Maybe you wanted to lose some weight, learn to play the mandolin or improve your mental health. Or maybe you did not want to play the damn mandolin, it’s a silly mini-guitar.
However, your online social circle keeps yapping about the benefits of mandolins and you clicked one of the articles. Now there’s an ad that keeps popping up on Skype for 70% off floral-printed mandolins. There was also a girl in your feed who looked amazing playing her mandolin in a poppy field.
And her mandolin was just a basic brown!
Maybe, just maybe, by purchasing a cooler mandolin, you’ll reap the benefits you keep hearing about AND get a few more likes.
If not, no biggie. After all, in the words of Macklemore, it was just 99 cents!
This is just an exaggerated example but we, as humans, are all susceptible to these types of influences. They stem from our innate need to improve and be appreciated, which is not bad in itself.
If you accept all these ads hawking self-improvement for the low price of 99 cents, before you know it, your mind will be like grandma’s browser. Yes, filled with so many useful extensions that they simply don’t work together and bog down the overall performance.
Moreover, this entire ecosystem built on intrusion can prey on those actually needing help.
“Deceptive practices are common in online rehab marketing, including Google and SEO scams that redirect callers away from legitimate treatment centers.”
As highlighted in the quote above, every purchase or mindless click sends a signal to malicious actors that you’re susceptible to a certain message.
Because your mind is valuable, they will target you with something worse.
A patch against attacks
I know you reasonably well. I also know why you’re here.
I can make a reasonable assumption without opening any of the dozens of tracking tools freely available online. Let’s just use common sense.
- You’re here because you probably spend a lot of time and money online.
- You have valuable data on your computer and probably connect your smartphone to your bank account.
- You’re also knowledgeable or intelligent enough to always seek out new information.
How do I know this?
Well, you landed on this article so this means you’re interested in security. Because this is a cybersecurity blog, and a relatively popular one if I might say so.
The bitcoin was just a wild guess because the cryptocurrency landscape is filled with malicious hackers wanting to steal money with no consequences. Any crypto enthusiast is or should be focused on cybersecurity, so they should land here.
If you came from Facebook, it means you either followed our profile or a friend linked you to us. Your friends reveal a lot about you because they tend to have common interests.
If I were cleverer, I’d probably infer a lot more about you, but I think that would be rude.
Malicious hackers try to get to know you the same way but their intentions are vastly different than ours. Through a combination of social engineering and malware attacks, they go after your information.
We put together the above gif for you to better visualize how malware creators target your devices. The same principle applies to your mind.
What you keep on your devices are products of your mind, so they’re quantifiable in actual money.
This is why there are so many cyber criminals and families of ransomware out there.
They will get those dollars by locking your information and demanding ransom, steal your financial info or simply trick you into spending money on something via adware.
You don’t need to fear them, but you do need to be aware.
Our advice is to actively research the best information from trusted sources, install the antivirus that cleans infected files, use the proactive solution that prevents new and adaptive malware from infiltrating your device and always update the software you use.
In short, to successfully navigate this digital landscape, avoid having unpatched devices AND, more importantly, avoid the dangers of an unpatched mind.
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If you have other tips for maintaining good mental security, we’d love to hear them!
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