how (e)secure are we?

The other day I was chatting with someone who works for (one of) our largest communications network(s) and he said something that made me think.  Are we too trusting of the promised security for our on-line dealings?

Netting

Over the years I’ve crossed paths with people (mostly older generation) who shy away from using the Internet and even computers.  When I asked them “why?” the answer is always the same.  They don’t trust computers.  Okay, I can understand that, if you consider the term “computer” to include the person behind the keyboard.  The thought of having your information on a large network is scary.  Especially if you watch movies like The Net. In that storyline even a woman with really advanced computer skills couldn’t prevent her life from being “erased”. Granted, the main character in the movie was an “easy target” since she practically lived digital and didn’t really interact with anyone face to face.  No-one ever saw her, so no-one could vouch for her and do a visual verification of her identity.  So, she didn’t exist.  Yep, that is a scary thought.

I still remember my apprehension when I first started working on computers.  I didn’t get formal training – I just kinda plunged in.  It was really stressful because I didn’t know what to expect and how to reverse an error.  It wasn’t like a piece of paper that you write on and if you make a mistake, just scrunch it up and throw it in the bin to start over on a clean sheet.  I’ll probably never forget that fear, although I did overcome it and rarely think of it now.

The first time I connected to the Internet.  Wow!  That was pretty incredible, although it also took some getting used to.  Then came business banking where you can connect to the bank’s system and do transaction “live”.  That was serious progress.  It also required some considerations of the risks involved which was limited since one basically did a point-A to point-B phone call.  Alas, that has also evolved to Internet-based systems. Somewhere along the line other businesses also realised the potential of having customers filling out forms and such on-line and emailing it in.  And that’s when your information starts floating around in Cyberspace.

Or is it?  I think there is a misconception that as long as you don’t enter your information electronically you are “safe”.  Very few organisations and businesses don’t use some form of software to keep track of information.  So even if you fill out a printed form, chances are that your information is somewhere in digital form.  Somebody else did that on your behalf.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to scare anyone.  Network administrators do their best to secure the networks we connect to when we do on-line banking or shop on-line.  It’s kinda like securing ones home.  We install security alarms, burglarproof bars (that’s another topic), security lights and much more.  The reality is though that there is always a possibility that someone will get around it.  It is our duty to stay vigilant and be cautious.

My advice to anyone who feels unsure or insecure about using digital convenience is to stay informed, stay cautious, stay vigilant.  I have a few tips that I follow:

1) Whenever you fill out personal information or shop on-line, ensure that you are using a secure site (https://).

2) Register you credit card information in a trusted portal like PayPal.  That way you don’t accidentally provide your credit card info on a non-secure site (http://).  Never supply this information in an email.

3) Use a good Anti-Virus program.

4) Don’t trust any old email that says it is coming from your banking institution requesting some information or that you update your details.  If your bank really does that – change banks! 😀  Before you click on a link in any such email you’ll be able to see where it is pointing to.  It is a good idea to be familiar with the naming convention your bank uses for its links and official site(s).

5) Set your browser to not save cookies.  You can also set it with exceptions for sites that you trust.

6) Set your browser to not allow pop-ups.  I also use a third party program to help with that in case something slips through – which happened quite a few times recently while I was browsing.

What are the main things you do to stay digital safe?

I came across a site called StaySafeOnline.org where they address a lot of security concerns and provide some helpful insight and tips – if you need to find some peace of mind 🙂

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