Step Up Your Internet Security to Avoid Being a Victim of Future Crimes
If you’re old enough to remember a time when you first went online, then it’s extremely likely that a) you made up an online avatar instead of using your real name and b) that avatar was extremely embarrassing. But embarrassment aside, the reason you crafted a username for your online interactions was for the sake of internet security—you were protecting your identity, and thus, your privacy. With the advent of social media however, things changed.
Suddenly, instead of hiding ourselves online, we were broadcasting ourselves. Our online avatars became curated versions of ourselves, and we would end up using that selective version to make friends, meet partners, craft careers, and in some cases, get famous.
There’s no denying that we wouldn’t be able to lead our modern lives without the internet, but by accepting its ubiquity, we’ve also become blinded to its risks and broader impact. Despite a cascade of data leak scandals in recent years, and protection measures like the EU’s GDPR, we still take many foolish risks online and fail to take simple steps to protect ourselves. In the video above, Page and Turner highlight the most simple, and horrifyingly common, way we leave ourselves open to online fraud—and how we can remedy it.
This valuable tip is taken from the fascinating, and at times, downright scary, Future Crimes by Marc Goodman. Do yourself, and your future internet security a favor by snapping up a copy of this book, pronto. If however, you only have a few minutes, here follow some key thoughts from Goodman’s 2015 title. You can also get a taste of the full insights on Blinkist in just about 15 minutes.
- 15 min reading time
- audio version available
Why Internet Security is Paramount Now That We’re All Online
Of course, you’ve gone through the user agreement of every site you’ve ever signed up for with a fine-tooth comb and therefore know all the potential loopholes that could be exploited by internet companies. Ha! What a world that would be.
The boxes we check or leave unchecked online can leave us open to a whole host of internet security breaches, and using public networks and saving content to the cloud can further compromise our data. In a world where we try to minimize boredom and dial up efficiency, reading long documents written in legalese is just not something we feel we have time for, and even well-meaning terms of service can only go so far.
Our very connectedness leaves us vulnerable to attacks or leaks, but there are ways to mitigate the likelihood of being hit.
No Such Thing as a Free Search
How many services do you pay for online? Your searches are free, your social media accounts are free, and, depending on your relationship to legality, some of your streaming services may be free. The general rule of thumb online though, is that if the service is free, then you are the product. When the primary unit of currency online is your click, most companies that provide free services use your data to sell to advertisers.
As Goodman recounts in his book, Google has developed technology that enables it to access calls made on your Android device and use your conversation and sounds around you to create targeted ads. If you think it’s weird that you mentioned a band over the phone and suddenly saw ads for their concerts everywhere, it’s not as coincidental as you think. Consider downloading a VPN—Virtual Private Network—service which will encrypt the data you send and receive online, or using a privacy browser like Tor instead of Google. The search results probably won’t be as extensive, but you’ll be safe.
Be Careful about What You Say on Social Media
It’s not just the obvious apps that collect data on you. A study done by Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute revealed that only 5% of Angry Birds players knew that the app collects location data which it then sells to advertising companies. Step one on your quest to be safer online: turn off location data on your phone. But this hints at a bigger trade-off. The convenience of logging in through your social media or email accounts rather than going through yet another individual onboarding process comes at a cost: your privacy.
Just think about everything your search engine knows about you. Every question you’ve ever asked Google—and let’s face it, many of them are weird—is stored somewhere in a database. Pay attention to the ads you’re served and when, and be careful about random comments or jokes you make online. Think that sounds extreme? Tell that to British 26 year-old Leigh Van Bryan who, in 2012, before traveling to the US, tweeted a friend that they should meet before he went to “destroy America”. The US Department of Homeland Security didn’t get the joke and flagged him as a security threat, preventing him from entering the country.
And it’s not just questions of national security, but also intellectual property. If you write your magnum opus on Google Docs, Google owns it, not you. Don’t risk it. Keep your personal work offline.
The Internet of Stolen Things
As the internet permeates more and more of our lives and becomes part of our homes as well as our constant pocket companion, we become less aware of how strange this constant connectedness really is—and how easy it is to exploit. We like the feeling of convenience and the slightly sci-fi rush of high-speed technological advances. We have home assistants that manage everything from our sound systems to our alarm clocks to our light switches and as the Internet of Things expands, you could soon very easily control your entire home through your connected devices.
In Sweden, thousands of people have voluntarily become “cyborgs” by having a tiny microchip implanted into their hands to replace the need to carry train tickets, keys, or wallets. What might happen if these chips got hacked? And how comfortable are you really with having all your movements tracked by a barcode? Whether you consider that the way of the future or an Orwellian hellscape, you still need to protect yourself against any potential malicious intentions. Even technologies that are developed with the best intentions in the world can be misused. To ensure you stay protected, it’s probably a good idea to keep your home—and yourself—offline as much as possible.
Be mindful of your existing devices, too. Switch off your laptop when you’re not using it and cover the webcam on your laptop until it’s time to Skype your mom.
Get Cosy With Encryption
What would have seemed a few years ago to have been the spoutings of an anti-progress, tin-foil-hat–wearing conspiracy theorist have been shown to be a real threat. As digital natives, it makes sense for all of us to be more careful about internet security. After all, the internet is now everywhere, so you’re not just being safe online but in life.
Download some encryption software and use it. Be careful of the pictures you take, and use encryption services to send them. Create a “guest” account on your computer and use it for your day-to-day activities. Only use the “admin” account when updating programs you trust. This may be a pain in the proverbial, but it’ll make it harder for hackers and malware to impact your system. Turn off your Wifi, Bluetooth, hotspots, and Airdrop when you don’t need them, and be careful about using other people’s devices or public networks.
We live in a technological world and the benefits of this are countless, but by keeping some things offline, you’re doing your future self a favor.
If you want to learn more about internet security and how to protect yourself from tech crimes, check out the key insights to Future Crimes on Blinkist. For more videos like the one above, check out the Blinkist Youtube channel.