This month I want to talk about Internet Safety. Most of us go through our lives using the Internet for work, pleasure, and interpersonal connection. We surf, crawl, chat, utilize Social Networking and enjoy almost instantaneous access to information and multi-media. We don’t generally think about the fact that the Internet is perhaps one of the last largely ungoverned places left on the planet. I defy anyone to say that the Internet is a “Safe” place. Nothing this large and complex can exist without its inherent risks and dangers.
Command and Control and Intelligence are what the Internet was designed for; not to surf eBay or post provocative pictures in chat rooms. When you think about the amount of information we give away every time we log on to a site or post our latest pictures and video on our Social Networking site of choice it’s a bit scary. It’s scary in the fact that; you have no direct control over your information once you put it online
The Internet is a goldmine of intelligence, but if you can find information on almost any subject almost instantaneously; then others can access personal and often confidential information about you. Firewalls, routers and passwords are great security features and we use them to keep unwanted intrusion into the personal information on our computers. All of these high tech security features mean nothing when we freely put our information in places where anyone can access it at will without the need to breach all of these security protocols.
So what’s the solution? Never accessing the net is generally not an option. Living “off the grid” is not only impractical; it’s also immaterial in that somewhere; somehow there is information about you in someone’s database. A picture tagged on someone’s wall; a mention of your name in a paper or published newsletter. Any reference, mention or sniff of you will be searchable. Don’t believe me; feel free to Google yourself. The very fact that you know what I’m talking about has just proved my point. So even if you’ve never been online, you could still become victimized by your information being there.
A lot of how we approach teaching people how to increase their online safety is based on our Personal Safety Triangle© concept. The first point on the triangle is Situational Awareness. Just like the real world there are places online that are inherently more risky or dangerous to visit. Part of Situational Awareness when it comes to Internet Safety is Education. Take the time to do some research and learn how computers and the Internet work. Also learn about Spyware, Malware, Phishing, Phreaking, Hacking, Cracking and other tools used to gain access to you or your information. Knowledge is not power, it is the ability to apply knowledge that makes a person powerful. Keep this in mind when it comes to Internet safety.
Target Hardening is the second point on the triangle, and is accomplished by the use of Threat Analysis to determine where you could be vulnerable, how access would be initiated and what information they would want access to. It is a series of step by step tactical decisions that examines all potential safety/security risks/deficits and takes pro-active measures to resolve them. It is important to understand that both security and the methods to bypass it are always evolving. What works today, may not tomorrow. Target Hardening is a dynamic and fluid process must take these ever changing variables into account.
Emergency Response & Mitigation is the last point of the triangle. In terms of your safety and security online this is the action and implementation of everything you’ve learned and done previously. There are many levels of response for threats. Some are automated; such as when you’re antivirus software detects and quarantines a suspected file. Others are as simple as blocking and unwanted individual on Social Networking or chat sites or as complex as involving international law enforcement. It is important that your response be commensurate with the threat. It is equally important that one is not hyper-vigilant or too lax in how they perceive and respond to potential threats online.
Internet Safety Tips
- In families with children; keep computers in common living areas where adult monitoring and supervision can occur.
- Use filtering and monitoring software to block unwanted sites or content. *There are a lot of easy ways to bypass these functions
- Parents should check the “Chat logs” that accompany online chat sessions as well as have access to all passwords/accounts for any young people in the house.
- Educate your children on Internet safety protocols and responsibility.
- Educate yourself on issues ranging from Internet safety and security and how criminals utilize the internet to stalk, lure or recruit potential victims.
- Utilize a router to increase the security of your home network. If you use a wireless router ensure that the security features are locked so that your network is less vulnerable.
- Utilize the firewall that comes with your operating system or on your anti-virus software. It is another layer of protection between your information and the Internet.
- Antivirus/Spyware protection should be kept updated and always on. Scan your system periodically for threats.
- Be aware of the limitations of security features on Social Networking sites. There is no such thing as a completely secure server. If security was that tight it would not be practical to connect and network.
- Keep in mind when tagging photos, videos or other media that they become material for search engines. Always keep in mind that you have no control over who views this material or how its Metadata will be used once it is placed online.
- Be wary when banking or giving personal information such as credit card numbers, PIN numbers etc online. There are many ways for identity theft to occur; it is a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise. *Never give your SIN or other personal identification numbers as a requirement to join a site or group.
- Be aware when utilizing online dating services or classifieds. There is limited security screening involved to become a member of these sites. Paying to join by credit card is not the same thing as a security check. These can only be accomplished through law enforcement. I’m sure even Ted Bundy had a credit card or two.
- Run a periodic check of your credit history. Equifax and Trans Union are a couple of the larger companies. The small fee that you pay is worth the peace of mind that no one is accessing your credit.
- When on Social Networking sites or chat rooms, immediately block or report anyone that attempts to engage you in conversation or conduct that makes you uncomfortable or frightened. There are laws in place to deter this type of behavior. Report serious threats or incidents to the police or cyber tip lines.
- Be extremely careful when responding to “official” email. There are a lot of Phishing and Internet scams out there. If it sounds too good to be true then it is.