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Our Online Safety and Privacy-What can we do to maintain it?

Even in the developing nations, Internet is respected as an enabler. No doubt about this as more and more people are using Internet to go about business. Statements have come out predicting that by the year 2022, Internet will be a 'must' of life. In the same line the UN is moving to make broadband access a human right. It is with no doubt now that Internet is moving to rule our lives, in education, medicines, communications (emails and so on), banking, society (through social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc) and generally in the way we live our lives.

As we move around the Internet, we often find problems, either people with bad intentions or our poor enlightenment which might end up being costly to us. The problems on the Internet might include, although not limited to:

a) Cyberstalking: Cyberstalking is a technologically-based “attack” on one person who has been targeted specifically for that attack for reasons of anger, revenge or control. Cyberstalking can take many forms, including embarrassment, accusations, monitoring, making threats, harassment or gathering information in order to harass and humiliate the victim.

b) Identity Theft: Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, Email Address credentials, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

c) Spam and Unsolicited communications1: Spam is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages, especially advertising, indiscriminately. The hidden dangers of spam is that; Eight out of ten spam emails contain covert tracking codes that enable the sender to record and log recipients' email addresses as soon as a message is opened.

d) Hackers: A hacker is someone who finds weaknesses in a computer or computer network, though the term can also refer to someone with an advanced understanding of computers and computer networks. The dangers of Hackers range from petty theft of little information from your computer to state sponsored crimes like state attacks. Hackers can at times be taken under identity theft or vise versa.

e) Con-men and Scammers: These are people who tell stories that are too good to be true in a way of winning your heart with intentions of stealing from you. They are too common on the Internet mainly through email and other social networks now days. They will either exploit your wish to make quick money or your sympathetic heart to cheat you.

The different harmful people and activities cannot be enlisted and finished in this paper but they are many and we are assured, they are going to increase as Internet develops.

What should be done?

Just like in any security related scenario, your best way out is your defense and your defense is your curiosity and keenness.

1) When on the Internet, don't click on links you are not sure of. Some of these links can install Malware on to the computer. Malware is short for malicious Software which has a potential to gathering sensitive information or gain access to private computer systems. It could be a virus, worm, Trojan, spyware or Adware. There are many tempting links on the Internet which will entice your eyes and these are well designed to force your hand into clicking. Don't touch them unless they are linking to a website or program you know and intend to use.

2) In addition to suspicious links on the Internet, a number of suspicious softwares are given to us to install on our computers. Some of these softwares are used as back doors into our computers by hackers. Only install programs that you know their use and source. Things like 'Updates are available for installation' will drag you into thinking that the updates or softwares are legitimate yet they are dangerous. In addition to suspicious links, don't allow browser pop ups. Pop ups are web browser display windows that suddenly appear in your active display window intended to attract web traffic or capture email addresses. If you are not knowledgeable enough about some thing, it is advisable to ask those who you think know.

3) Filling online forms: In a number of times we are presented with online forms to fill. These forms have spaces of email address, contact address and passwords. You find people providing their true email addresses, with at times their passwords. If you asked these people why they fill such forms, you will be baffled by their response(s). Some will tell you that they thought it was a requirement to access the web page, and so many others. The trick here is, never to fill forms unless you know what it is meant for and unless you have requested for the form. These forms are used for information gathering, a very popular trick in spamming.

4) Use strong Passwords and protect your password jealously. There are programs out there that test usernames and passwords into applications and passwords that appear in the dictionary, simple alphanumerical characters like 'paul123' don't need more than an hour to be cracked. Online applications today enforce strong password cultures although some are still backwards as regards this. A strong password should at least contain a Cap, Numeral, and an Alphabetic letter with more than six characters. Passwords with special characters like '@,#,$,%,^,&,*,' etc are the hardest to crack. As part of good password cultures, we are encouraged to always change our passwords periodically (year). Remember to make a password strong, hard to crack but simple to remember. Avoid bad habits of writing passwords on papers because they are too hard to remember.

5) Password memory and Full time log in. Many applications, have options of 'Leave me logged in' and 'Remember my ID and password'. Although these are good for speedy web-browsing and password memory since we have many to remember, they are very dangerous habits. At times people use them on public computer for example computers of friends, Internet cafe computers and school or university computers. With these options, we are only weakening the work of Hackers and identity thieves. Make sure these 'check boxes’ are not ticked before clicking the login button. As a policy, always remember to logout your account after use. If in a cafe, use the last five minutes to logout your accounts. When the cafe session screen appears on the monitor, it doesn't mean that your accounts are logged out; it only means you cannot access your accounts. If someone activates the session, it will continue with your account.

6) Clear Cookies in your web browser as often as possible. A cookie is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user's web-browser while a user is browsing a website. When the user browses the same website the date stored in the cookie can be retrieved by the website to notify the website of the users' previous activities. Cookies wouldn't have been dangerous if other dangerous people never looked for them from our computers and used them for their purposes like marketing, login information gathering etc. As you move around the Internet you click on many things, these things you click on depict your likes, and dislikes. If this information is stored on the computer in the browser, it is almost available to all the people on the Internet, that is, if they want it. The security or defense is to remove it very often. Most web-browser cookies can be cleared under the 'Tools' menu and 'Clear recent history' or specifically you can look for help in different browsers.

7) Desist from the habit of sending (forwarding) spam. We have already talked about spam in the previous paragraphs and its dangers. Spam propagation is a hard part for those in the business and the best way to reducing running costs is through every day people, people we trust. We often receive mails that ask as to resend or something will happen, mails that are meant to educate us about some thing but force use to forward them as they are. Chances are high, these mails have background code and this code is being executed every time the mail is opened. You and me as naive users, the best work we can do for the SPAM companies is by propagating this spam.

8) Where possible use secure web browsing. Normal web-browsing is done through http (hyper text transfer protocol) and this is the most common mode of web-browsing. Now days, a number of websites are provided over both http and https. The 's' at the end of https stands for secure. It thus means that browsing over https is a little more secure and it provides a little more secure environment for business transactions. If a website offers both https and http, please choose https.

9) Have an updated Anti-virus, Firewall, Anti-Spyware, Anti-Adware and Anti-Malware program on your computer for those that use them. For all the problems we have talked about, some of these applications can be of use. Although some of these programs are costly, intended to attract web traffic or capture email addresses the cost is not equal to what you would loose if any of the problems mentioned above ever happened to you. Now days all these applications can be sold in single software and many software (Anti-virus) companies are combining them in one package, making work easier.

Finally but not least, we need to pay attention to all that the computer tells us through warning messages and where possible ask if you are not sure. At times the notifications on the computer are misleading and yet at time they are critically informative. It is through reading, experience and inquiry that you can know which one is misleading and which one is safe. As we have seen, it is not any ones work to have our privacy and security on the Internet but our own. Those days, it used to the work of IT support officers and security engineers to ensure our security on Internet, but things have changed. We deal with the Internet more closely, more frequently and more personally that the IT teams are no longer fully responsible for our security. I therefore call upon you all to educate those around you and take these few skills and others you might have into action to minimise losses and pain on the Internet as we strive to have a healthier and cleaner Internet with no crime.

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