Security and Safety Risks On The Web
Due the prominent use of the web in our daily lives it is easy to become complacent and oblivious to some of the security and safety concerns that come with using this productive medium. Over the years, the web is increasingly becoming an integral part of our lives such that it is hard to imagine our lives without it.
As the use of the World Wide Web rises, so do criminal elements that seek to take advantage of others in an effort to steal information or take their hard-earned cash. As a user of the World Wide Web, you face a range of risks and it is in your best interest to be informed and hence mitigate them. With a little bit of vigilance on your part, your browsing experiences can be free of heartache and loss.
The Long Con
Internet scams are as old as the web itself. Such scams are usually not based on any technological mastery but rather rely on preying on people’s vulnerabilities, hopes and expectations. Believing in the possibility of something that is too good to be true being real is a psychological characteristic that most people fall for once in a while; often when we are desperate.
It is this state of mind that perpetrators of online scams take advantage of. They carefully craft a narrative that promises the victim a quick fix out of whatever situation they may be in, usually promising quick and numerous financial gains. The narrative is built around a huge reward of economic value for a relatively smaller risk. The contribution that the victim has to make is often within their difficult but manageable means. The perpetrators of the scam rely on the desperation of the victims and the promise of a greater reward but disappear once the victim has paid them a sum of money in exchange for the larger reward that never existed in the first place.
The web now forms an integral part of our lives and is a central component of its social fabric. A lot of our human interactions now happen online with websites like Facebook and Twitter in the forefront. With this increased use of online media for social interaction, a lot of negative behaviour patterns that affect our personal safety are also on the rise.
Often, the victims of personal safety issues in social circles online are children and this should be a major concern for parents with young kids and adolescents. Cyberbullying is one of these malicious social behaviours which are often an extension of bullying offline, at school or in the playground. Cyberbullying may occur with much higher levels of frequency than bullying offline since the bully has easy access to the platform used and they may enjoy a certain level of anonymity.
Cyberstalking and online predation are some of the malicious behaviours also taking place online. In these cases, perpetrators use online media to stalk or harass others. Online social environments may also serve as a platform for perpetrators to form inappropriate sexual relationships with minors where parents may find themselves in a poor position to intervene, which is a great threat to personal safety of minors.
Identity theft is another risk that users of the web also face. Identity theft occurs when an individual uses someone else’s identity in order to gain advantage, usually of a financial kind such as to gain access to funds or credit. Identity theft may also be used to impersonate someone, thereby implicating them in criminal activities when they did not in fact carry out such unlawful acts.
The Internet makes it convenient for identity thieves to collect data about their victims and use it to perpetrate their criminal activities. The victim of identity theft often suffers the consequences of the actions of the perpetrator since it is difficult to prove that they did not carry out those activities when their identities were stolen. The victims of identity theft may suffer immense financial loss or be implicated in criminal conduct.
Phishing is a type of scam where a perpetrator claims to be a website or an entity they are not. The aim of a phishing attack is to steal private information such as a password or a PIN. Phishing attacks often occur in emails or instant messaging application. The victim is sent a link, which when clicked takes them to a website that is designed to look like the website of the one the perpetrator is claiming to be which then requests for private information. The website being impersonated may be the victim’s bank website for example. When the victim supplies this information to the fake website, the perpetrator then uses the supplied information to access the victim’s private data and sensitive information.
Malicious software- malware for short; is the most technical approach that poses risk for internet users which takes many forms and can be used to carry out the security threats discussed so far. This is software that is often disguised as legitimate software that is used to collect and transmit private information such as passwords without the consent of the owner.
Malware can also be used to present unsolicited information to computer users such as pop-up ads that may be inappropriate or offensive. In their deadly form, malware can be used to collect sensitive information about a computer user thereby victimising or defrauding them. Malware often operate in the background and for this reason it may not be easy to be aware of their presence until it is too late.
Whilst using the World Wide Web comes with inherent risk, being vigilant can go a long way in ensuring that your online interactions are safer. The good news is that most of the threats discussed can be mitigated with common sense. In the case of scams, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Watch out for perpetrators offering quick gains with very little contributions on your part.
In terms of personal safety, be sure to be vigilant of the people you keep in your online social circles and if possible try to ensure that you know who they are offline and participate in the social activities of your young children and adolescents in a supervisory role. Always guard your personal information online and always ensure that you are submitting private data such as passwords to trusted websites.
As a precaution, do not provide sensitive information such as passwords for your bank account after clicking a link in an email. Rather type the address for the website into the browser yourself. Install anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer to ensure that your computer is free of malicious software. If you follow these simple precautions, your web experience will be for the most part free from heartache and loss.