Staying Safe Online

A new frontier has opened – a frontier that doesn’t have borders, and can be both the greatest opportunity to connect and share information with people from around the world as well as the greatest threat to security, openness, and privacy we have ever seen. How can one thing be both? Because that one thing is everywhere; it has no physical form, and yet we are connected to it so much that we stop noticing it after a while. The internet and the world wide web are here to stay.

More and more, humanity has turned to the online world to shop, to play, to work … to live. There’s very little that can’t be done online at the forefront of the digital revolution; from shopping and banking to socialising and card making. But wherever humanity is, another force isn’t far behind, a far less attractive one; crime.

Governments and law-makers are often behind the curve when it comes to legislating against online crime; technology evolves so fast that it’s practically impossible to be in step with it all, and impossible to predict exactly what all the positive and negative attributes would be five or ten or fifty years down the line. Who could have imagined that Facebook and Twitter could have provided spaces for the Arab Spring to be planned, or that hate mongers have gained such followings.

Europe began to develop some of the strongest cyber security legislation a few years ago, which came into force in 2018. Known as the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), it is the toughest cyber law Europe has seen – and even this piece of legislation will, inevitably, become outdated in the next few years as the cyber landscape continues to evolve. Laws need to keep up with a field that is constantly evolving, and that will only happen if policy makers are engaged with the emerging opportunities and threats that the digital world has to offer.

In the UK, 32% of businesses had cyber security breaches or attacks in 2019. The USA is similarly affected; over 446.5 million records were exposed by data breaches in 2018.

Fraudulent emails and websites are the most common way criminals attack; in a method called “phishing”, attackers has caused extremely disruptive and expensive breaches of security. TrendMicro, a cyber security firm, reported blocking 26,804,076,261 threats in the first half of 2019, and the largest proportion of these threats were in emails.

A breach that compromised the data of millions of people would once have been big news. Now, such breaches are sadly more common. In a list of the fifteen biggest breaches in the 21st century so far, the smallst affected 134 million people, and the top two affected about 3.5 billion people.

Twitter, for example, left the passwords of its 330 million users unmasked in a log, but there was no evidence of any misuse. Adobe reported in 2013 that nearly three million records of customer’s credit cards, and a undetermined number of login information for user accounts, had been stolen.

But that number was later increased; 38 million passwords and IDs had been stolen from more of their users via the same hack. It exposed names, IDs, passwords, and bank card informaion. Adobe came to an agreement where they would pay $1.1 million in legal fees, and an undisclosed amount to customers.

Phishing emails, just to clarify, can use your real details and passwords to make you think that the attacker is a real contact you already know, or to make you think that they have more information than they actually do to panic you into clicking on a message. The criminals get your email address and password data from breaches of online databases.

Being part of the digital revolution is essential to staying involved in the ever-changing world we find ourselves in. The internet and world wide web have transformed our ability to learn, work, live, and have fun; they have permanently transformed how we see the world. But, just as in the real world, we need to be safe; hackers and criminals are out there, lurking in the dark corners of the web, waiting for their time to strike. Be careful, be sensible, and be thoughtful.

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