The modern age has made many things more convenient, from transportation to communication — more specifically the exchange of information online. With social media sites being major hubs for people of all ages to connect and interact, there are potential dangers lurking beneath its convenience.
While social media connects people from across the world, it also provides a continuous stream of personal information that can be accessed by outside sources and sold to third parties. Major social media platforms like Facebook and search engines like Google collect users’ information, and while both deny abusing user data, this does not prevent them from selling private information to user-targeted advertisers at any point in the future.
Although major companies walk a fine line when it comes to handling online information, another manifestation of danger takes the form of hackers. According to Felix Ng, IT consultant and systems engineer at TruAdvantage, a corporate cybersecurity company, hacking happens on a daily basis and is motivated by various factors including passion, enjoyment, and most importantly, money.
“There’s quite a bit of money to be made from stealing credit card information, stealing company corporate secrets, stealing all this stuff and selling it to the highest bidder,” Ng said. “So for example, actually, yesterday [Oct. 1, 2019], one of our clients got hit with a ransomware attack.”
Ransomware hacks come in two types according to Ng. While both forms of ransomware lockout the user from accessing their computer or data and demand payment, the way the lockout is done is different. The first form of ransomware is a virus that is downloaded onto the user’s computer, locking the screen and holding the data in the computer as hostage. The second form of ransomware encrypts all of the files in the user’s computer, making it nearly impossible to get the data back without FBI intervention.
Hackers or cybercriminals have become more prevalent over the years with 64% of Americans experiencing some form of hacking, according to a 2017 survey from Pew Research Center.
When corporations get hacked, user information and sometimes passwords that aren’t encrypted can be sold to other parties. According to the website haveibeenpwned.com, which serves to notify users of abuse to their data, many students have had their information compromised by Edmodo.
Just recently, many students at MVHS have experienced a common form of hacking on Instagram: a phishing link posing as the Instagram log-in page which prompted users to enter their passwords and spread the same link to their followers. While Instagram is prepared for brute-force hacking methods, it was still liable to hackers overloading the system with an onslaught of codes from 1,000 different IP addresses.
Social media is especially dangerous due to how much information is readily shared online by users. Marketing director of Cipher Bill Bowman explains how data on social media can be used in terms of phishing: “So the criminal hacker can put all those pieces together and imitate a friend or family member or something like that, and gain their trust in order to get the target or victim to take the action of clicking a link or doing something, and then their system’s infected.”
According to Ng, Instagram hacking happens when someone gets a hold of a device or password or if the password is inadvertently entered on a different website.
If you’ve been hacked, you should reset that password and passwords to other sites that are the same or even if they have the same password base. It’s also a good idea to communicate with your followers on social media to not click on the link they’ve received.
Another prevalent form of hacking is phishing emails, in which the hacker impersonates a trustworthy figure in order to gain credit card or other account information. While phishing emails were easily identified due to grammar or spelling errors in the past, hackers can now copy and paste a real corporate email and send it to anyone. Some hints indicating a potential phishing email include a sense of urgency prompting you to follow the instructions in the email, an attachment or download or an illegitimate sender email address. To avoid clicking links, you should hover over the link and investigate the domain of the address: look out for words that aren’t relevant to the link’s destination in the domain.
For better internet security, there are steps you can take now. First, you should make sure that you always install the latest updates to your operating systems, according to Bowman.
“The updates usually contain security updates, because hackers have found out how to break into older versions of software, then the maker of the software releases an update,” Bowman said. “So if you don’t update, then you’re going to be vulnerable.”
You should also be prepared with up-to-date backups of your information so that if you lose your data, you still have access to it and don’t need to pay ransom if it’s ransomware.
In order to keep track of difficult passwords and generate long passwords with numbers, letters and special characters, using a password manager like Dashlane is useful.
Additionally, you can choose to use search engines that don’t track your searches like DuckDuckGo, which computer science teacher David Greenstein uses. In the case of a compromised WiFi network, wherein the WiFi is tapped by an external source, using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is suggested to reinforce private activity. In cases of your camera being hacked, you can follow Greenstein’s example of covering the camera on your computer, phone or tablet with something as simple as a post-it note. It is a good idea to install anti-virus software, especially if you use a PC computer.
For Greenstein, upholding ‘netiquette’ (net etiquette) is important for proper internet safety, especially about what you put online.
“If you’re communicating over Facebook or any of these big companies, expect that you’re going to see this information be around forever — it’s just going to be there,” Greenstein said. “So if you type an email, think about what you do. Or if you post something on Facebook, just realize that those pictures are going to be around, those words are going to be around for a long time.”
While the permanence of what you put on the internet is readily apparent, Greenstein elaborates on the less noticeable mindset focused on technological convenience.
“I think that most people are sort of blind to this … we like the convenience so much that we’re willing to give up some privacy to do that,” Greenstein said. “And I see that the younger generation essentially is willing to give a lot more privacy, because you like the conveniences that you get from it all. And you don’t see any repercussions from what you’re giving away. We won’t see it for a while. So I suspect what’s going to happen is that people are going to find out that they compromised information years ago, when you get older, and you’ll have what I’ll call regrets.”