What Exactly is Internet Safety Anyhow?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Theresa Payton


What does Internet safety mean to the average person? It may vary depending upon age, how you use the internet, and the type of work that you do that involves the digital world. Here are some sobering statistics that might give you a perspective.

"Many of the child exploitation cases under Operation Orion began with a child or teen chatting with someone he or she met online." - Quote from ICE Director John Morton after busting a kiddie porn ring and rescuing 18 victims.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 10 million people will be a victim of identity theft every year. Add to that, the frustration of law enforcement and victims that cybercriminals get arrested roughly 1 out of every 700 cases.

Some of the web's most targeted victims? The elderly who can be tricked easily into trusting strangers. Children who are meeting and talking to people online are susceptible to fraud, cyberbullying, and worse.

Viruses are floating around trying to invade your life through your digital devices. Security firm Kaspersky reported they see 70,000 viruses a day via their security software. Picture the residents of Asheville, NC or Scranton, PA milling about wanting to infect computers and you get the idea of how large that number is.

In a recent study by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), less than half of the people polled said they feel safe from cyberthreats and cybercrime.

In between the news headlines, school letting out and making plans for the summer, you might not have realized that June is "National Internet Safety Month."

For many of you, you might be concerned that too many companies now know your every move and that privacy is gone. Hyper-speed search engines can connect dots in your life that you wish your brain cells actually did. When you forget a name when you see someone, it would be great to have this amazing recall power wouldn't it?

Your life is one large collection of digital factoids. Your grocery store "reward cards" collect everything you buy, companies track your location when you play a mindless game on your smart phone, and spy planes are now flying overhead catching your happy hour on the porch with friends and perhaps a glimmer of you through your home's skylight "dancing like nobody's watching."

I would love to see an analysis of our digital tracks just at the grocery store. "Ralph, our data motion analysis must be broken. I have food purchases that just don't correlate. I see sunflower butter, hemp, almond milk, and granola purchased at the same time as cookies, candy, cupcakes, and chips." To which the coworker replies, "Oh, that's just Mr. Payton doing the shopping this weekend instead of his wife. It's not a glitch in our system."

Agent Lowry in the movie Paranoid said it poignantly, "If the intelligence community is a family, think of us as the uncle no one talks about." The entire retail and Internet industry are now part of a self-created, quasi-intelligence community. Too bad we now have a room full of uncles nobody wants to talk about.

You can thank every place you shop, visit, and all the online social networks for this newfound openness in your life. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said it well when he said, "By giving people the power to share, we're making the world more transparent." Remember that and smile and wave up to the heavens from your porch to your guardian angel and the spy planes overhead.

So now that you have bared all to the world knowingly or unknowingly, what can you do in the month of June to improve internet safety?

Number one, talk about it! Talk about it with your employees. Discuss it with your loved ones. The best weapon against most cyber attacks is being aware.

I hear from businesses and consumers every day that they are not sure what to focus on when it comes to Internet safety. The best way to describe internet safety is to take on the role of neighborhood crime watch. In the physical world when we talk about safety; that term can cover anything from how to cross the street, to avoiding dilapidated bridges, to worrying about child predators, home invasions, muggings, and other issues of safety. In the digital world, the worries are not much different. We need to share, engage, and inform each other on how the bad intentions of others take advantage of a weak point that puts you and your loved ones in danger.

The media has done a good job of keeping internet safety issues at the forefront of the discussion. Nonprofit organizations and large technology companies are also providing information, tips, and free tools on how to protect yourself online. Conducting public awareness campaigns like a "June Internet Safety month" may also help. The National Cyber Security Alliance's June campaign may remind you of your fire safety training, "Stop Drop Roll" which has been very effective. Their campaign is, "Stop Think Connect".

5 Quick Tips on Internet Safety:

1. Grandmom Rule: If you would be embarrassed for your Grandmom to hear what you say or see that picture, don't post it online.

2. Bad Guy Rule: If a bad guy were stalking you, would you want him to know that piece of data? If not, don't post it online.

3. Trust but Verify: Assume most emails and posts on social sites like Facebook or Twitter that sound like a sweet deal are scams. Also, try your best to avoid clicking on links or opening attachments, especially in emails.

For links, try installing the Web of Trust widget available for Firefox and Google Chrome. McAfee has a free tool called the Site Advisor. Phishtank will let you test a link and report suspicious ones. Or, go directly to the company itself by typing in the domain name.

4. Interjections: As the School House Rock song says, "Interjections show excitement or emotion..." If you think you want to use an interjection online, especially the four-letter kind, think twice because digital is forever. What feels great to post in the moment may be something you wish you could take back years later.

5. Updated Settings: Keep those browsers, operating systems, virus protection, software products and privacy settings up to date. Check them at least weekly.

Some web resources you may find helpful are:

Theresa Payton is a cybersecurity expert on America Now News Magazine (www.AmericaNowNews.com), manages Fortalice®, LLC, a security consulting company, and is the co-author of the new book, "Protecting Your Internet Identity: Are You Naked Online?"

Cross-posted from Huffington Post

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