Written by Neil Graham, Chief Technology Officer
World of Online. It’s amazing. It’s exciting. It’s loaded with new things to learn and experiences to have.
Sadly, not all experiences are positive and knowing how to manage the safety and protection of ourselves and our families is such a constant threat nowadays. It used to be that you were concerned only about getting a virus on your PC, and you would let an anti-virus product take care of it, unfortunately it’s not quite that straightforward anymore.
If we think back to 20 years ago, online banking, shopping, social networks, they were not really a thing. Certainly, were not mainstream, and as such didn’t pose the level of risk and vulnerability that is so open for attack in today’s society.
Vulnerability is the key word here. Vulnerability is something that sadly will always be open to exploitation whether that’s in the physical, or the cyber world.
There are so many social media platforms these days, and regulation is still not a byword when it comes to moderation of content. Peer pressure amongst children is one of the biggest challenges parents face in terms of granting access to apps they would otherwise instinctively resist. And domestic abuse is also now very heavily linked with technology as an enabler to those committing the abusive behaviour.
There is no magic potion to fixing this, unfortunately. Awareness is fundamentally key, for all of us around how we interact digitally in order to keep potential danger at arm’s length (and hopefully further than that).
There are some very simple measures we can, and should, all take when it comes to online safety. But in essence always ask yourself these question:
“If this was a physical conversation with this person that I don’t know, would I give them this much insight into me, my family, and my world?”
Unlikely. So, some simple tips would be:
- Do not respond to random approaches from complete unknowns to you. Stalking is a major proponent of online abuse. Don’t give people a backstage pass to your life just to boost your figures.
- Do not offer up or share personal information to “friends” online. If these people truly are your friends, then you are likely to meet them in person over a coffee, or at the workplace for example. Do not put any information about yourself or your family online that you wouldn’t be happy handing to a complete stranger. This includes being mindful of photos you post. Background detail will potentially give away a lot of information.
- Do not send intimate or provocative photos of yourself to anybody online. Even if it’s to your current other half, these will exist in the digital world, potentially, far beyond your relationship. And potentially therefore could be used against you without your consent causing significant personal distress. Would you walk down the high street showing everyone what you are prepared to put in that photo? Probably not
- Do not use personal or very recognisable words as your passwords. 15% of the population use pets names as their passwords to their banks, emails, or other such private accounts. 14% use a family members name. So, if you have shared something about your pet dog like their name, or their favourite toy duck Quackers, or even all about your great Aunt Flora who loved knitting, on social media, you are potentially giving hackers a leg up.
- If you follow your kids’ school or clubs in your area online, follow all schools and all clubs so it’s not quite so obvious where your child is when they are not with you. And again, be aware of photos posted by you or where you give your consent to have photos shared by schools/clubs with badges/emblems showing.
- Don’t do those quizzes online about your favourite colour, road you grew up on, first fishes name, or “what your spending habits say about you”. It’s all just phishing and data mining and WILL be used against you.
- Be mindful of the shopping sites you use. Gut instinct serves most of us well. If it feels a bit too polished or perhaps too good to be true, it probably is. A quick google “is SITE X a scam” and a read through some reviews may be enough to satisfy you. But if you are still not certain, pay a few quid more on a site you know and trust. Again, you are about to hand your bank details to a complete stranger (albeit website). Are you ok with that?
There is a wealth of information at your fingertips. You can exist within the online world without having to put yourself at risk of abuse, trolling, aggression, stalking, harassment, or any other negative and dark abuse of the data YOU choose to share.
“Friends” are often anything but friendly, and “followers” are mostly exactly that. Following and watching.
Stay safe. Stay private. Stay aware.