By now, it’s highly likely that you’ve been exposed to the concept of the metaverse in some way, shape or form. While the terminology and notion have been around for decades, there’s been a recent revival of fascination surrounding the metaverse due to the popularity of augmented and virtual realities. Oh, and let’s not forget the recent mind-blowing shift Facebook made to Meta.
However, with this exciting opportunity comes a wave of concern about data privacy and security. How will AR and VR firms ensure that personally identifiable information and sensitive data are truly safeguarded? What data policies must be developed and implemented in order to ensure this? Where is data stored, which encryption methods are used and what are the protocols in place in the event of a breach?
If you, like many others, find yourself interested in learning more about metaverse security in the age of web 3.0, then this article is for you.
Recap: What exactly is the metaverse?
While a universal, textbook definition of the metaverse is still largely yet to be determined, there remains some fundamental truths about what exactly the metaverse is.
One can conceive of the metaverse as an immersive experience built upon the convergence of mixed realities, augmented realities, virtual realities, blockchain, and our physical and digital lives.
In their current states, most of these platforms exist within a silo of sorts. Think of the metaverse as providing a fundamental shift away from centralization towards a seamless convergence of them all where we can play, socialize, conduct business, relax and more.
Welcome to Web 3.0 – where business is booming.
According to SecurityMagazine.com, the metaverse market not only has an estimated CAGR of 43.3%, it has a market value of $48 billion – and that’s expected to grow as high as $800 billion by 2028.
However, with the ushering in of this new era of existence comes a few caveats. Primarily, strong issues and concerns regarding data privacy and security.
The eight categories of metaverse security concerns
Security Magazine recently addressed the widespread concern about security and privacy in the metaverse. According to them, these various concerns can ultimately be broken down into eight categories:
Ultimately, a common view point is that cyber threats will not only continue to exist on the metaverse, but will amplify unless leaders become proactive about taking innovative approaches to mitigating cybercrime.
2. Identity Management
Virtual avatars may be a fictional representation of an individual in the real world, but in the metaverse, that distinction becomes much more blurred. As a result, it’s essential that various verification methods are put in place to ensure that those little avatars running around the place are really who they say they are.
3. Cryptocurrency and Payments
The potential for fraud is extremely high in the metaverse. As a result, it’s essential that digital currency payments are verified in order to prevent fraudulent activities. This may include verification of currency, the individual, or various business entities in order to safeguard security within the metaverse market.
This one pretty much comes as a no-brainer. An unregulated market is ripe for illicit activities. Thus, dramatic measures must be put in place such as the introduction of industry standards, laws, and regulations which can enforce real-world measures for fraudulent activities on the metaverse.
5. Data Governance
Regulation is a top concern, but so too is data governance, which plays a key role in regulatory compliance. Having a solid data governance operating model is going to be key in the metaverse in order to be able to implement standards, practices, and protocols which can mitigate potential threats.
6. Data Control
With an abundance of demographic, behavioral, personal, sensitive, and biometric data, comes a great need to ensure that data is well-controlled. As a result, it’s of paramount importance that leaders ensure devices, software, and platforms and operations are designed both ethically and responsibly.
7. Intellectual Property
Another form of fraud which has the potential to become highly problematic in the metaverse is that of intellectual property. Again, there’s an emphasis on validating and verifying transactions, merchants, goods, and services so that they can be traced back to a real-world identity. As a result, you’re looking at a world of IP infringement, proof of ownership conflicts and more.
8. Data Privacy
Data privacy is probably the most prominent issue of concern in today’s headlines. Measures must be taken to ensure that personally identifiable information and other forms of sensitive data are well-safeguarded “within a robust blockchain vault behind multiple layers of security”.
The overarching issue
The problem that has been a long-time coming is that there are so many enterprises out there currently so enveloped in the possibilities of the metaverse and how to get their stake in it that people are starting to wonder where data privacy and security ranks on their list.
Ultimately, we live in the day and age of surveillance capitalism. So much of the modern web, social media platforms, and other forms of digital and virtual entertainment rely on the ability to surveil and aggregate consumer data, behaviors and habits. This is the bread and butter and absolutely underpins the business models of practically every big tech company in the industry.
However, security risks and breaches run rampant to the point that the average, every day consumer has practically become jaded around the concept.
Cybersecurity firm Checkpoint recently released data showing that last year in 2021, there was a “50% increase in overall attacks per week on corporate networks” compared to the year before.
Now, imagine the risk that could be realized in the metaverse where everything such as voice and facial feature validation, video, fingerprints, and biometrics such as retina scans and facial geometry all have the potential to be used taken advantage of.
A rally for increased attention on security and data privacy
Fortunately, with the rise of discussions about the metaverse has come a slew of organizations and industry influencers speaking up about the importance of security.
Investment and financial services conglomerate JP Morgan recently released a detailed white paper discussing the mounting opportunities which present themselves with the development of the metaverse. In addition to this, the company recognized the importance of both user identification and privacy safeguards within the metaverse and the importance of a user-centric approach.
One of the ultimate key takeaways is that “verifiable credentials [should be] easily structured to enable easier identification of fellow community or team members…”.
At the end of the day, one of the key tactics to facility security should be ensuring that protocols are as “user-interactive as possible”.
Others have spoken up about potential strategies which could be leveraged in order to protect consumers.
In a recent interview with CNBC, Gary Gardiner, head of security engineering for Asia-Pacific and Japan at Check Point Software technologies discussed the various security measures which can be put in place.
Among them include leveraging blockchain to identify users and using organizationally verified tokens and biometrics in order to verify the legitimacy of user identities. He also suggested something as simple as putting a little exclamation point above avatar heads in order to help consumers easily identify accounts which may have been deemed untrustworthy.
Other tactics include taking a page out of LinkedIn’s book. One of the key benefits of the networking platform is the ability to build a web of contacts. Enabling something similar in the metaverse could be another strategy used in order to help users establish trust with one another, especially when it comes to the exchange of information.
At the end of the day, Gardiner feels that companies who are involved with designing and implementing the metaverse have a duty to collaborate and establish a set of common standards in order to ensure that “security protocols [will be] deployed effectively.”
The concept of the metaverse is amazingly exciting, to say the least. And, yes -- the prospect of joining in on what has the potential to be a revolutionary transformation of the internet of things as we know it is even more so exhilarating. It’s easy to see why so many companies are rushing in to be the first to join in on this latest “trend”.
But companies and their leaders owe it to consumers to take the time to properly prepare for what lies ahead by asking the hard questions – and so too do consumers.
The ultimate end-goal shouldn’t be how quickly an organization can rush a product to market to cash in – it should be to put consumers first – to protect them fiercely.
The truth of the matter is that ultimately, at the end of the day, companies need to take a stand to not only protect their consumers, but go above and beyond in ensuring they can do all they can to help educate them and guide them safely through this transition.
Because in the world of web 3.0, there’s a lot more at stake than just a password.