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The New World of Cyber Safety

By Tony Neate on 30 Aug, 2011

A guest blog from - Philip J Reed, Westwood College.

There is absolutely no denying that the internet has opened countless doors for our technology hungry society. We can learn, teach, explore, rally, rant, or simply connect with people around the world with the touch of a button. It’s changed how we do business, how we interact with one another and who we are able to interact with. It’s also given people to ability to gather en mass, whether online or in person, which has resulted in everything from flash mob dancing to the recent uprising in Egypt. The internet has given power to the people in an unprecedented way, but with that power comes risk. New technology and our affinity for the web have spawned a whole new breed of criminals and crime. The rising popularity of young people going to school to obtain a cyber security degree is evidence of this rise in criminal activity and the need for safeguards.

A few of these new security issues that we didn’t have to worry about even just a handful of years ago are:

1) Identity Theft
No longer confined to stealing mail and forging signatures, identity theft has morphed into a multibillion dollar business online. With so much personal information about each of us floating around in cyber space, criminals have a nearly limitless pool of people to pick from. This means that safe guarding your online information and limiting that which people have access to is now vitally important.

2) Virus Dissemination
While it’d be a stretch to call any virus “benign,” there are at least many examples of viruses that seek to do nothing other than advertise themselves. They can serve as a mission statement for the coder’s political or moral philosophies, for example, and the virus might simply make those opinions known to a wide audience. The rest of the time, however, a virus can steal your personal information, reduce your computer to an inoperable mess, or attack everybody in your address book or social network with malignant code. The virus is a many-headed beast, but all the heads have one thing in common: you don’t want to be bitten by them.

3) Misrepresentation
As we move further from face to face contact, misrepresentation online has blossomed into a malignant force that has many different manifestations. The luring of a child to an in person meeting with a “friend”, the emergency email requesting money from a “relative”, and all the way up to the embezzlement of millions of dollars from company accounts or public pockets, misrepresentation has found its perfect host in the internet.

4) Cyber Bullying
Bullying is nothing new, but the inseparability of people today from their computers and personal electronic devices means that the bullying, potentially, could happen at any time of the day or night, regardless of physical distance from one’s tormentors. Harassing text messages or social network posts can flood the victim indefinitely, and if personal information about the person is posted to the internet, it’s quite likely that it will never be effectively removed, leading to continuous bullying from others into the indefinite future. And while several high-profile cases of cyber bullying (with tragic conclusions) were directed at youths, adults are just as vulnerable.

5) Global or Domestic Terrorism
Inasmuch as the internet has given the average Joe the ability to communicate with people around the world, so too is it available to those wishing to cause harm on a mass scale. The gate of global communication swings both ways and has therefore offered terrorists a less detectable method with which to gather information, plan, and implement their directives.

Times, just as technology, have changed. The demand for professionals in online safety or a cyber security degree are helping to dam the flow of information getting to the wrong people however, we as the users have a responsibility as well. Protect yourself and your information and don’t let the anonymity of the internet lull you into a false sense of security. For more information on internet security visit www.getsafeonline.org.