For National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) I wanted to talk briefly about the difficulty online that is identity. Online personas or identities are usually started by creating an email address, which can be done for free, anonymously, and repeatedly. For most free online email providers, there is no way to verify any of the information provided is accurate, or not intentionally misleading. Once you have an anonymous email address, you can start to sign up for other services: Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, etc.
From these anonymous identities arise several scams; spam and phishing emails, fake product reviews on Amazon, fake followers on Twitter and YouTube, and a chorus of voices trying to convince people to buy, sell, follow, or believe their message. The repeated hacks of companies storing personal information has made passwords, family relationships, addresses, security questions, as well as Social Security and Credit Card numbers available online. This information can be used to impersonate, as well as intimidate people about what may be happening. We are quickly approaching a world where video and audio recordings, pictures, voices on the phone, are all being manipulated to hide their true identity and intention.
Knowing that the internet is a global community of anonymous identities is a primary defense against many of the attacks. The online disinhibition effect describes how people who believe they are anonymous will have less restraint in sharing, as well as in being misleading or even maliciously. Don’t let a call, email, web page (even this one), or video convince you that you need to send money, buy things, or give people access to your identity (username, passwords etc.).
As you communicate, shop, and bank online, keep watch on where you click. Be watchful of search result ads and learn to identify sections of the page that are actual content, vs advertising. Make sure that you understand who is paying for the service you are using. If you are getting it for free, then likely the advertisers are paying for your service, and getting information about you while doing it. Watch for the specific spelling of the site you are looking for the https or lock icon, as well as the sender of an email. If a person calls with outlandish stories or claims about money owed or family members confirm it with other people you know. We are here to help– if someone tells you not to tell anyone because they are threating, embarrassing, or rushing you, it will be a scam.
When in doubt: Don’t click. Don’t buy. Don’t login.
- Mark Haan, Network Administration Officer