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Tag Archives: web security

Privacy online: A quick primer

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One of the ongoing themes of the Internet age has been the question of privacy, and how to maintain it in an increasingly online world. It’s something that’s come to the fore recently with a lot of concern over the way that Facebook uses and utilises the data put into it, whether it’s simply making those details public for the world to see, or selling complex analytical information on to advertisers. It’s driven some people to deliberately abandon Facebook altogether, although undeniably not quite as many as the protest movement might have liked.

Online privacy is a complex and undoubtedly touchy subject, if only because it means different things to different people. An eight year old’s understanding of privacy is quite different to an eighteen year old’s, and even more removed from that of an eighty year old’s, for that matter. Some folk are naturally extroverted, while others sit at home frantically wrapping tin foil round and round their skulls.

There are a few basic things that you should keep in mind in terms of online privacy, however.

1) Your private information is valuable

I’m not just talking credit card numbers or your mother’s maiden name here. As an example, If you’ve used social media platform Twitter and ever mentioned a hot topic — be it iPads, Justin Bieber or Arab-Israeli politics — chances are you’ll pick up a whole bunch of “interesting” followers. You might not think it, but the things you choose to chat about online reveal plenty of private information about you. Automated Twitter followers are just the thin end of the wedge. Advertisers love knowing more about you, because it allows them to send more targeted ads. Targeted ads are more likely to result in sales, which means money. Hence, your private information is valuable, and not just to you.

2) If you don’t put it up there, it’s not going up there (maybe)

This is one of those obvious-in-hindsight things. You can’t stop your house being in public view, but you can pull the curtains to stop folks peering in through the curtains. The same is true online. If you don’t post pictures to Facebook of the company party, then they’re less likely to go up there. I say less likely, because you might not be the only one with a camera, and if you share the shots someone else might get that bright idea. As such, sensitive information (whatever it might be) should be shared with the implicit understanding that you want it to remain private.

3) The Internet is forever

Just like that awesome tattoo of Guns N Roses that you figured was a great idea to get embedded on your forehead at age 18, really. Often, it’s just as “good” an idea as the tattoo might have been, but the consequences will last long beyond your initial interest in most cases.  As plenty of public figures and companies have discovered, once it’s online, chances are if there’s interest in it, it’s staying up there — somewhere. There are legal remedies for issues such as libel, but even those create a virtual paper trail drawing attention to the issue involved.

4) Keep yourself safe and secure

A well trodden path here, but one that crops up over and over again. The Internet can be great for meeting new folks, but don’t lose sight of common sense. Just as it can be used to maintain privacy, it can also be used to create a false facade. As cartoonist Peter Steiner put it all the way back in 1993, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you’re_a_dog). Or a con artist, or worse. In financial matters, this means making sure any site that asks for financial or personal information is secured. Look at least for a padlock symbol in the address bar or bottom of Web pages, keep anti-virus software up to date, and do a quick Google search for the company name before committing any funds. Adding the qualifier “sucks” (or similar) may bring up customer complaints. Too many complaints? Find another online store.

For personal interactions it’s even more vital to stay safe. Not everyone online is out to get you, certainly, but some sensible actions when meeting online “friends” in real life should include only meeting in public places, and preferably in the company of an actual friend of your own. It may create some initial social awkwardness, but it beats many of the sad alternatives.


Browse the Web Safely – Avoid Identity Theft

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The Internet, just like the real world, is full of all kinds of characters. An honest person in the real world is an honest person online. Along the same vein, a criminal in the real world is a criminal in the online world too. Unfortunately, the criminal presence or underworld on the Internet continues to increase with every passing year as hackers successfully scam thousands of Internet users out of hard earned money and more. Surfing the Internet 10 years ago is a completely different experience to surfing the Internet today. This does not mean that we need to run and hide. It simply means that we should use all of the resources available to protect ourselves and our personal information.

Although the realm of tasks that can be completed via the Internet has grown exponentially to where there are very few business and work tasks that can not be done online. When it comes to Internet safety, the areas where we are all at risk are when we perform those tasks that involve transmitting any personal information and when making a payment online. These types of transactions can be considered higher risk online activities because there is the risk that the information you are sending can be intercepted in some way and then used for criminal activity.

Every individual should guard against identity theft online and against having their credit card and banking details stolen. In fact, each of us should do everything possible to ensure that we have taken every precaution possible to make our online transactions safe. Guarding against criminal activity online is done through setting up good basic protective programs on your computer and by keeping them running at all times. Programs that protect you are things such as firewalls and antivirus programs. These are the basic safeguards that at minimum everyone should surf the Internet with. In addition to this, anytime that you are sending any information that needs to be protected, you should check to ensure that you are on a secure web page. Secure web pages always have a padlock symbol on them that indicates that any information sent via the page is secure and encrypted.

Other things that you can do to protect yourself online are, to be careful about clicking on links that you get in email messages. If you do not know the sender of an email, do not even open the email, much less click on any links that you find in there. Thieves send links in emails to web sties that look like authentic bank web sites. They then steal your log in details when you inadvertently enter them into their web site that they have created to look like your bank web site. Whenever you want to do business online, make it a habit to always type the address of the web site you want to visit into your browser rather than clicking on any links. This will protect you against the risk of using any dodgy links that have been sent to you by unscrupulous characters.


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