How to be Cyber Safe?

18, May, 2014, by Seema Bhatnagar

hacker working from street corner

Connectivity and communication are the basis of modern world. Our existence seems meaningless without web presence. A person without web presence is nothing lesser than a non-existent being of this planet. With rapidly growing dependence on online communication there is also a rising threat of cyber security. There is always a dangling threat of personal details to be misused. Personal details can be used for making online transactions and withdrawing money from your bank account. If not harming you financially, your account can be used to send malicious emails to your contacts which can really spoil your social image. If you have a website, your stolen account details can be used to deface your website. At country level, stolen details of confidential data can actually pose political threats to countries. Such damages are just immeasurable.

Do you know that your computer can be hijacked and you can be asked to pay a ransom to get it released? Yes, there are many more such crimes which used to happen online and have now started happening online. Interestingly, in cyber crimes, the country of crime and country of perpetrators could be completely different and the money can change hands without you getting any clue.

A person who breaks through the system and steals information and use it for personal gains or merely for fun is called a hacker. Hackers are individuals who are highly technical and intelligent enough to break through complex systems. Hacker's community is becoming stronger with everyday. With superb connectivity and ecommerce systems getting more in reach to a common man, stealing information is not so difficult. Common man is quite gullible and doesn't know the dangers of disclosing personal details. It is especially very harmful threat for kids. Without any supervision of parents or elders, kids are under constant threat of watching or reading material not suitable for their age and they are highly gullible in disclosing personal details which can be used for any illegal activity by miscreants.

How to be cyber safe?

hacker on work

It is high time that we raise our awareness of using net and remain cyber safe in this unsafe and insecure web world. Following are some DON'Ts which can prove highly effective for cyber safety:

  1. Be wary of sharing your personal information on websites. Trust only reputed and secure sites.

  2. Create a strong password. Take caution not to use dictionary words, names of your loved ones or date of births.
    Examples of strong password - VgAlj #9893, kjo**5832j, pweJUT$$201
    Example of weak password - test123, john122002, maria530

  3. Do not click on the link sent by people unknown to you.

  4. To avoid shoulder surfing, do not type password when somebody is standing behind you and observing you typing your password. Shoulder surfing is when somebody obtains your details by directly observing you.

  5. Do not click a link sent in mail from unknown source pretending as authorized bank. Check the email address of sender before clicking any embedded link.

  6. Do not download files attached in email until it is from trusted and known email id.

  7. Do not download file from untrusted sites even if they promise a free download.

  8. Do not run free online virus scan service available on websites. It may install a harmful virus while installing a very simple application which might not even work.

  9. Do not accept business card or contact sent by other Bluetooth until you know the source.

  10. Keep Bluetooth off when not in use.

  11. Install good anti-virus, anti-malware software on PC, notebook, tab or mobile. Following are some established companies in the field of cyber security solutions, McCaffe, Norton, Symantec.

  12. Ensure, installed anti-virus protection software has firewall protection available and on.

  13. Do not leave web camera and internet connection on for longer duration.

  14. Do not accept any pop-up requests for online installation of free software.

  15. If you find any abnormal behavior of your gadget, like slow speed of processing for opening, closing or working with softwares or frequently hanging or showing frequent errors with junk characters on screen, then take immediate remedial steps by calling your software/hardware maintenance professional.

  16. Do not take backup on the same machine or partitioned drive on the same machine. Make it a practice to take regular backups of your hard disk or important data on a separate external storage device. Best external storage device would an external hard disk of good storage capacity.

  17. Do not disclose your personal information especially, name, date of birth, address and father's name through online web forms which promise free software or any free service or prize winning contest.

  18. Do not befriend unknown people on Facebook or other social networking sites. Even if you are a friend, do not disclose personal details and keep a tab over your emotions.

  19. Block or report users on Facebook or other social networking sites who are trying to harass you or sending you unsolicited messages.

  20. If you are using your mobile for making online transactions or shopping, make sure it is well protected with anti-virus protection.

  21. Do not write password on post-its or paper slips or desktop notes. Better trust your memory.

  22. Avoid making online transactions from cyber cafes or WIFI networks at common public areas.

  23. Keep your wireless network at home secure using strong passwords.

  24. Never ever share your password with anyone, but if there is urgent need or any emergency then do not share it on emails, make a call and share the password and change it immediately after use.

  25. Do not use password manager for storing highly sensitive passwords, for example, bank accounts, personal email account and organization's login password.

  26. Do not share any personal information over phone if somebody claims to be speaking from customer care centre of your bank. Never trust such calls, as it is a way to collect sensitive information to be used for accessing your account for making unauthorized online transactions.

  27. Do not allow any installation of file if you try to open any downloaded file as it may install virus or any malware on your machine.

  28. Do not get lured and share your bank account details on getting emails about winning million dollars or any such information. Just report such emails as junk in your email account.

  29. Always sign-out from your email, chat or social networking sites accounts rather than closing the browser window or application window.

  30. Do not allow your kids under 12 years of age, to access your sensitive email accounts or social networking sites profile.

  31. Allow your kids to access internet only under your supervision and keep the parental check on in virus protection software.

  32. Monitor and check your kid's profile and accounts regularly for any unsolicited requests or suspicious conversations.

  33. Clean up your browser history regularly so that no one can get a clue about your browsing habits.

  34. Always lock (soft lock not physical lock) your machine before leaving it unattended. All operating systems provide this option on locking. Check user manual of operating system.

  35. Instead of using admin account on your machine for net surfing, create another user account which doesn't have installation permission. This is very easy and available in all windows' and linux version. Check user creation option in your operating system manual.

  36. Always look for a lock symbol on the right hand bottom corner of browser window while making money transactions or making online purchases. It is called as "https", which means encryption of data before it travels over network and cannot be read easily. Without "https" it is only "http", in which data travels in readable format.

  37. Do not share your USB or pen drives with others as these have become main source of spreading virus. Instead make use of emails or online sharing tools. If it is not avoidable better ensure your machine is well equipped with good anti-virus software.

cracked password screen

This list might not be the complete list of all the don'ts but for sure will minimize threats to great extent.

Internet and social media are for sure have made our life more convenient by removing hindrances of distances but at the same time have made us more vulnerable to online threats. No matter how safe we play online but at the end our data and details travels over several servers on networks before we actually see final result of our action. During this transfer, user has absolutely no control and anyone who has a deep knowledge of networks and data can easily sniff this information for personal use. However, this doesn't mean that we should stop using internet; the better way is keeping self well equipped with required awareness and intelligence while online.

My Personal Experience

With long years of working experience in IT industry, have seen the rising boom of internet and how it has changed the lives of people especially the shopping experience and social networking. Additionally, with my higher studies, MS, in Cyber Law and Cyber Security, I got an opportunity to learn better how cyber crime can be dealt with and what are vulnerabilities for a common man. It has surely given me an in-depth knowledge of national and international cyber laws.

In IT industry, professionals get trained right from the beginning at every step to maintain security of networks. Usage of password and not to share it with anybody is the main fundamental taught to IT professional. The leakage of personal details (login and password) is a direct threat to the infrastructure of whole organization. Especially, being in outsource IT industry, the client's information carries the highest possible importance and I always took utmost care with my teams to ensure security for my client's data.

Now, with my own work, personally, I ensure that my laptop is always loaded with update and latest version of purchased anti-virus software. I do not mind paying for it considering the worth of my data. Uptil this year April, I had been using McCafe and recently swicthed over to Quickheal. Just switched because of quick and easy customer care of Quickheal.

From hacking perspective, there is an anecdote which I still remember, how it put me in a very embarrassing and awkward situation at work. It wasn't a case of hacking but somehow I got entrapped in wrong situation. It was way back in 2001 when I was overseas at client's site, and had to send some important email back home so I was checking my email account. While checking, I saw an email with subject mentioned as "very urgent from your friend who needs your immediate help". Without checking sender's email address I quickly opened that email and saw few image attachments. To get clarity about message I enabled images. The moment it started opening images, I found some obscene images opening up on my desktop PC screen and since images were too heavy so it was taking time to load and at the same time my machine went into a hung state….oh my God. Since my seat was at a location where my screen was visible to people passing behind me, this overall situation raised my hair and I found myself losing my dignity at work. I immediately switched off or hard boot my machine to get rid of that annoying state.

This whole incident taught me a very good lesson and since then, I never opened such emails and always reported them as spam in my email account. The whole incident was indeed very embarrassing for me, luckily nobody noticed my screen and I simply escaped unhurt in every possible aspect.

It tells me, there are perverts sitting online who want to harass people in some or the other way and want to take advantage of common mans' innocence and gullibility. They want to release their own stress, fear, pain and darkness of life anonymously. They have no emotions and sensibility towards others. Well, with increasing online dependence occurrence of such cases would be normal.

Since our presence and dependence on cyber world is becoming a living reality so it makes sense to compare cyber or virtual world with a real world. Any crime which can happen in real world can also happen in cyber world, the modus operandi might be different but damages probably would be several times higher.

Be Cyber Safe

cyber law books

Do you know that your computer can be hijacked and you can be asked to pay a ransom to get it released? Yes, there are many more such crimes which used to happen online and have now started happening online. Interestingly, in cyber crimes, the country of crime and country of perpetrators could be completely different and the money can change hands without you getting any clue.

Today, companies, especially security software are hiring hackers to understand hackers' psychology and how do they carry out their operations in secured zone. There is a continuous war between software developers and hackers for making and breaking softwares.

Cyber laws all over the world are still under infancy to deal with cyber menace. Especially, in India and other developing countries cyber laws are not so strong and take too long for required investigations. The growing rate of national and international cyber crime demands immediate steps from all countries to join hands together and help each other in resolving cyber crimes.

Do not act lazy, your small small actions and good cyber habits can really save you from some unexpected and unfortunate situations. The only safety and prevention against cyber crime is, don't be a gullible internet user; it is not a place to share your emotions. Take all possible precautions (as suggested in the post), while online. Despite taking all precautions, you never know when you can get entrapped in hacker's net, but whatever may be the case, it is always true that prevention is better than cure.

BE cyber safe.

Image@Ian Sane
Image@Jared Tarbell
Image@Don Hankins
Image@Bert van der Lingen

Seema Bhatnagar
, Blogger, Writer, Life Coach and Founder of Abundance Thinkers, site for personal growth and development. Empowering people in achieving and living the best of personal potential.

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