As many readers may have seen in the news lately, Translate.com recently suffered a breach in their privacy, leading to numerous sections of highly sensitive data becoming available within search results. As with any breach in confidentiality, this has once again raised the profile of privacy issues with regards to data security when using internet-based services, in this case, bringing free machine translation (MT) services into question.

Of course, as a translation agency, we would recommend using human-based translation rather than free online translation resources for reasons we have discussed previously – Parallel has various systems in place to protect the privacy of client data – however we appreciate that many people turn to such online MT services to obtain a quick, free understanding of foreign language texts.

But should such online services be avoided, or do they just need to be used with caution?

Firstly, let’s look at what data is and how its privacy can be breached.

What is data and how can it be taken?

Information is no longer stored purely as hard copies (analog systems), but typically stored digitally as data on computer drives, on smartphones and other hand-held devices, on USB and other portable drives, and on cloud servers. In our high-tech world, it goes without saying that such digital storage is vital for quick and easy communications.

Such data can be subdivided further into three different categories: ‘data at rest’, i.e. is stored data, not being used; ‘data in motion’, which is data being sent over a network and includes login account credentials; and ‘data in use’, which is stored temporarily on the random access memory (RAM), such as when opening and writing in a Word document.

Depending on the method of storage, data can be taken or manipulated in a variety of ways: eavesdropping (viewing data when sending information via a network), theft, and unauthorised access or modification.

It’s worth mentioning that even when data was stored in analog systems, information could still be pilfered in all three of these ways. Imagine sitting on a train discussing confidential information, someone reading over your shoulder, or, as often happens, a briefcase gets left behind in an overhead rack and then taken; new methods of intercepting information have simply been found to access data in the modern era!

What can I do to protect my data and keep my work confidential?

There are a number of key ways in which you can minimise the risk of such breaches of privacy. Take a few minutes to think about your usual processes and how these could be improved.

  • Use secure networks

When using wireless networks for internet access, data should only be sent over a WPA2 network. Other wireless networks, often free ones, are WPA, which means your data can be accessed by other people. For full security, both your devices and those of the recipient should be connected to such secure WPA2 networks. Although this may not always be within your control, you can aim to secure your connections to minimise risk.

  • Safe email accounts

For translators working with Parallel, we have a safe email system in place for the transfer of documents both to and from our offices. This ensures all correspondence and any attached data is encrypted. It is important that this system is used consistently, and the documents should be saved directly from here rather than forwarded on (Google, for example, takes data from its services, including using data from Gmail accounts and Google Drive).

  • Update your firewalls and anti-virus software

Ensure that you have firewalls and anti-virus software installed on your devices and keep this up to date. Viruses, much like the real thing, can evolve and an outdated antivirus will not be able to detect it and fight any threats.

How does Translate.com’s breach affect me and what alternatives do I have?

Unless you are a regular user of Translate.com, you are unlikely to be at risk from breached data from this particular public ‘scare’.

Translate.com is powered by Microsoft Translator so, as an alternative for a quick, free translation, it is best to use this site directly or its main competitor, Google Translate (if using a human translator or translation agency is not an option available to you). These services have heightened security measures in place, compared to Translate.com at present. It is important to note that both services retain and use your data to different extents, however the primary aim of such use is to improve the translation service they offer. It is vital to be aware of this and not to submit confidential information via these sites, unless it’s absolutely essential and you have no available alternatives. There have also been possible leaks previously via the Google-based service, so confidentiality cannot be guaranteed entirely using these services.

Both Microsoft and Google offer paid machine translation services which offer a higher level of data security. In their respective paid Translation APIs (application programming interfaces), Google uses data to “provide you with the service”, but not to improve output and Microsoft offers a “no-trace” option which stops all data being stored by the technology giant.

It is a laborious task, and one not made easy, but we recommend that you always read the Terms and Conditions, especially if you’re considering using a third party app or plug-in which has been coded by an unknown or unaffiliated developer. If you cannot find any Terms of Use – beware! Just because it has been downloaded tens of thousands of times doesn’t mean it is safe or confidential.

Due to the increasing risks of data loss, privacy breaches, inadvertently sharing confidential information and cyber-crime in general, we recently enhanced Parallel’s Cyber and Data Risk Insurance Policy and would recommend that both our clients and translators ensure that they have sufficient levels of cover to protect themselves, as such cover is not usually included in standard policies.

To summarise:

It is true that breaches of information can happen online (as they can offline!), but by taking appropriate precautions and being aware of the best ways to secure your data, you can use most MT services with confidence for a rapid interpretation of non-confidential, foreign-language text.

  • Avoid ‘contributing’ translation segments to ‘help’ improve any online MT services; thereby actively avoiding the submission of information to online databases.
  • If in doubt, use saved terminology databases on your device, rather than ‘cloud’ (online) offerings if you are unsure of the level of security of the cloud server.
  • Be aware of where your information is being stored by checking the Terms and Conditions of your commonly used software.
  • Remember to use secured networks and encrypted email services as far as possible.
  • Check and update your insurance policy.

 

For further reading on topics raised here, please see the following links:

Articles on data breaches

The Guardian –  ‘Anonymous’ browsing data can be easily exposed, researchers reveal (1 August 2017)

ITSP – Does Your Language Service Provider Keep Your Data Safe?  (undated)

Network World – Google Translate glitch opens security hole (30 November 2011)

Slator.com  – Translate.com Exposes Highly Sensitive Information in Massive Privacy Breach (7 September 2017)

 

MT Service Provider Links

Google Privacy Policy

Google Translate API FAQs

Microsoft Translator’s “No Trace” Option

Microsoft Translator Privacy Statement