Cyber safety... what lurks out there is real
As published in MapleLine Magazine: Nov.3, 2010
by Mary P. Brooke
Every bit of digital detail on your computer and what you send by email is open game for hackers, sniffers, spyware, viruses, spammers and even your own Internet Service Provider (ISP). The concept of personal privacy today is pretty moot. Everything about your finances, your educational record, your health, your friendship network, your nicknames, your family relationships and your very identity are open game for anyone who knows how to retrieve and/or piece this information together from your online travels.
If a person worries about this every time they use a computer, that would be pretty stressful. Well, seems that not worrying about it is the less desirable alternative. When using web banking, email, online shopping, government information sites, or any website where you visit and/or download information, you are giving yourself away. Perhaps now that everyone is “open” to the system, it doesn’t really matter, as there is little anyone can do about information privacy any more. However, there’s no sense opening the hen house to the wolves.
Make strong passwords and keep them private. Don’t use the same password for multiple online activities. Never use your bank PIN online. Make sure your anti-virus systems on computers at home and at work are up to date (this can be a daily process). Make the investment to hire a qualified computer technician who can prove to you that he or she understands Internet and network security. Then give them room to make your online world secure.
Canadian Internet users don’t usually realize that all email is ‘open text’ that can be read on the fly with some fairly basic software. Reputable ISPs will not have any interest in the personal content of emails, but there are malicious users out there who do. Your flight itinerary via email sent to a friend might not seem significant to you, but to a sniffer it reveals your income bracket, that you’re shopping with credit cards, and where you’re heading on your trip. The worst part of acknowledging online dangers is that we must actually believe there are persons of mal-intent in our daily world and that online they are virtually untrackable.
And briefly, about the darkest side of the Internet -- porn sites and particularly child pornography. We all know that for those who seek it, it’s easy to come by. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offence. Sadly, it was apparently the massive interest in online porn that drove the development of sophisticated interactive programming in the Web’s early days (1990s). Now visit any interactive website — even to buy a paperclip — and your email address is recorded, tracked and flagged by anyone who looks for you to visit/buy again. Online shopping has been the second largest development force and so ecommerce is ‘light years’ ahead of where it was even five years ago due to consumer demand for convenient online shopping and the desire of corporations and banks to make that happen.
Protect yourself as much online as you would in a dark alley. Sorry to be sombre, but the alternative is worse.
After note: On November 18, 2010 it was revealed in the world media that China made a cyberattack against the USA -- deliberate or otherwise, there are considerations to think about. More info in these articles by GreenworldInvestor and Imperva .
- Online activities are changing our daily lifestyles
- Cyber Safety for Children - Resources for Parents, Students and Teachers (School District 62 - Sooke)
- Cyber Bullying - tips and links
- Sooke District 62 (Sooke)- District Technology Strategic Plan 2009: Refocusing on the Digital Learner