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Internet security is the main issue, at the moment. The Internet becomes more integrated into our lives each day. If at the beginning it was used only to exchange a limited amount of information, now we...
Internet security is the main issue, at the moment. The Internet becomes more integrated into our lives each day. If at the beginning it was used only to exchange a limited amount of information, now we use it for pretty much everything you may think of.
We shop, socialize, pay our taxes, watch movies, take care of our financial investments, listen to your favorite music and soooo much more, with the help of the internet. Not only us, the humans, but with the Internet of things (IoT) we’re now able to connect all our electronic equipment to the Internet and control them from the distance.
Do you want to find your coffee done in the morning as soon as you’re out of bed? Connect your IoT enabled coffee maker to the Internet and “order” your coffee from bed. Or, control the light, speakers volume, turn the water on in the bathtub and make it hotter, start your car, feed your pet and so much more…
But all these come with a price. Recently, we found out that there’s a huge botnet (read here more about what a botnet is and how it works) made entirely of IoT devices which is used in DDOS attacks (read here about DDOS). The botnet which is responsible for one of the biggest attacks in history, when sites like Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Tumblr or Reddit were all inaccessible at the same time. Which means that your coffee machine was, probably, used in a hacking attack.
How is that even possible? There is a great article about this here, to understand a bit better how this works. And here, a little tool to check if your devices are vulnerable to Mirai. Long story short, as long as it has an IP assigned to it, in a DDOS attack, the IoT device “behaves” as a computer. Because this type of attack doesn’t require firepower at all, but connections, as many as possible, at the same time.
And that’s just your coffee machine. But what about YOU? Online banking, tax payment, buying stocks, shopping for your favorite book series, paying for the shopping in the store… Money, money, money. All handled electronic for you, all over connections more or less secured, all being a target for any hacker out there. You don’t worry about that, no? It’s safe, or at least as much as possible, if so many people are using it. So if money is not a problem, what else could it be? Privacy? Personal information? Or even worse, industrial or technical secrets? If they’re on the Internet, they’re available.
We all know that Google is tracking you and your activity, in order to serve you the best, most personalized ads. Google, using its search engine, the Chrome Browser, Android and all its other services, “knows” all the time where you are, what you want, what you like. But that’s not necessarily bad.
Imagine you want to buy a new white suit shirt. You search on Google for it, prices, stores, fabric. But you don’t buy it. And then, tomorrow, when you’re walking on the street, Google sends you a notification. “Enter the store next to you and you’ll find the white cotton shirt you want with 35% discount”. Pretty cool, no? This is a nice example, and everything stays like, nice, as long as the information collected is used to help you, in your own benefit. But it’s not always like that, unfortunately.
For example, some years ago, Facebook presented a very “special” study they made in their network, called “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks“. Or less fancy, emotional manipulation. Facebook willingly changed the news feeds for more than 600.000 of its users, without letting them know about it, either before, or after the study took place. It was so nasty, that they had to apologize about it afterwards and say it won’t happen again. In few words, they filtered the content of those feeds and present on only what they wanted. For some, there were only negative news and posts, for some, there were only positive. The results were, of course, as expected. The people who received the positive posts, posted only positive stuff as well, and the other way around.
Think about it. Facebook knows everything about you, or, at least, everything you told it. It knows everything you like and hate, regardless of what the subject is. Your favorite music, movies, political preferences, religious beliefs, what makes you angry, happy, sad, if you’re a cat or a dog person. It knows because you tell it, every day, with everything you’re doing on their network.
Every time you post something, everything you like or share or react to, Facebook remembers it. You become part of a group of people, the ones who like that thing. You’re part of a “filter”, like they call it. So, in its essence, Facebook is a huge collection of filters. Filters which are very easy to use and exploit. But it’s not only with the things you literally “say”. Facebook “reads” your pictures and videos as well, to identify people, places or products. And, it has the power to read your mind, by measuring the time you spend while scrolling the news feed, to see when you stop and read something that interests you. Therefore, Facebook knows what you like or not, without you even telling it to it.
So, if Facebook wants to create a target message to address exactly to the persons which at the same time like cats, like “Lord of the rings”, hate the communist party and were born on Tuesday, they can do that with just a few clicks. This is the next level marketing, where the message reaches its target with a bullseye precision.
And you think that’s all? Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, your smart TV, your game console, all “listen” to your device’s microphone all the time while they’re powered, in order to catch the activation command. Just like any other device with vocal commands. And, in some cases, hackers were able to hijack this service, exactly like they’re able to use your laptop’s camera to spy on you.
But what about the government? We all know the Snowden scandal, probably some of us saw the movie as well. The first entity which is supposed to protect you, was tracking and surveying you and all the other citizens, more or less legally. Funny thing, though, Snowden’s accusations came pretty much at the same time with Facebook’s announcement about the study we’ve discussed above. Even so, the NSA watching everything you do cause more panic than the manipulation study. Why?
Well, it’s simple. Everybody lies. Regardless if it’s a well-hidden affair, the fact that you’re buying some MDMA for the weekend or that you’re stealing print paper from work, everyone has something to hide. And the fact that someone, in this case, NSA, can and will tell your wife that you cheat on her with your work colleague is very scary. Definitively scarier than someone rearranging some articles in your news feed. Or isn’t?
And of course, the threats don’t end here. Phishing, scam emails, viruses, trojans, malware, clickjacking, identity theft and whatnot. The internet is a pretty dangerous place and it’s not a very easy job to stay safe and sound. Not easy, but possible. So here are a few tips to help protect yourself a bit better.
First of all, you will need an antivirus software. Your computer needs it, just like you would need a bulletproof vest while sitting on the battlefield with bullets flying all around you. PCMag ranks Bitdefender as the best, but you can check the full test here, read the reviews and see what’s best fitted for your machine. Free antiviruses exist as well. But, if you really want to be sure you’re safe, you should always choose for a paid one.
Second, you need to be careful what you’re doing on the internet. What information you give about yourself. How much you let the others know about you. What you choose to share and where. You always need to make sure that you have very strong passwords for all your accounts. Unique passwords, as much as possible, so in case one account gets hacked, the bad guys won’t be able to use the same password to break into all your other accounts.
Third, be very careful when using the social media. How much you share there and what exactly you’re doing. It’s very easy for the perpetrators to rob your house if they see you posting pictures from your vacation. It’s easy for others to track you down if you always leave your location on when posting something. And it’s even easier to get yourself used and manipulated, by people who can learn everything about you from studying your active social media account. The smaller your online footprint is, the better chances to “survive” the internet you have.
Fourth, be careful what you’re clicking, opening, checking, downloading. A huge amount of these bad things happen because people are not careful enough. There is no Nigerian prince, there are no single girls in your area who want to make sex with you. The banks will never ask you to send your pin or passwords online. The PDF file you received from a stranger is surely NOT what it says it is. And it’s surely not wise to login into your online banking account using the free WiFi at the mall. Avoid dodgy-strange_looking-unknown-weird online stores and buy only from the ones you know, you heard of, which has good reputation.
These would be the most important things which you need to consider. Of course, there are much more, but these are really the most basic ones. And they’re easy to do, simple stuff that should get into your daily routine. Because, like it or not, the internet becomes more and more a part of our lives. And, with it, all its dangers.