Technology can be defined as applications, instruments, or processes that enhance or simplify the aspects of everyday life. The vehicle you use to drive to work is an example of technology that simplifies life. Or, the Internet, as a whole, can be seen as technology that has greatly enhanced our lives. While the introduction of the Internet led to many benefits, unfortunately, it also came with its own set of problems. Most significantly, these problems can negatively impact your security and privacy.
Let’s address some of the advantages and disadvantages (drawbacks) of the Internet, and what you can do to keep your security and privacy intact.
Before the Internet came into existence, to communicate with someone who isn’t in the same room as you, you would have to call them on a phone. Or if you wanted to send them a note you had to send a letter through snail mail. With the introduction of the Internet, we now have the ability to send and receive messages through electronic mail- virtually instantaneously and without the need of a postage stamp.
Unfortunately, the ability to send and receive emails also created a means for cybercriminals to distribute spam and malware. Malware hiding in email attachments could wreak havoc to your PC or possibly even create a backdoor for an attacker to infiltrate your system. Through emails, cybercriminals saw this as another opportunity to play on human emotions and lure victims into revealing sensitive information through phishing scams.
What You Can Do
In addition to making sure your PC has an antivirus and two-way firewall, the key here is to think before you click. Did you get an email indicating there was unusual activity with your account and that you should click on this link to verify? Or, did you receive an email confirmation of a flight you did not make? In either instance, do not panic. If you’re unsure whether the email is legitimate or not, the best way to find out is to log into your online account directly to check on the claim. As always, never open email attachments from a sender you do not know.
With the Internet came the convenience of online shopping. Rather than having to drive to a mall and wait in long lines to make a purchase, you can now do all of your shopping with a few clicks of the mouse. In addition, the Internet made it easier for individuals to price compare between different online retailers to see which one offers the best selections and prices.
While the Internet brought upon convenience for individuals to make online purchases, this also created yet another way for cybercriminals to steal personal information and to distribute malware.
First, cybercriminals create fake websites that offer goods at unbelievable prices to attract individuals. For example, during the Holiday Season you might search for the best electronic deals through a search engine. Cybercriminals can trick you into clicking on their fake website by boosting their ranking in the search engine results page (SERP) through a technique called SEO poisoning. You might think you’re making a legitimate purchase, but in actuality the cybercriminal has just taken hold of your personal information and could now use it to commit identity theft or sell it to the black market.
Second, cybercriminals can spread malware on legitimate websites by means of drive-by-downloads. Since popular and legitimate online shopping websites already receive a ton of visitors, this makes it much easier for cybercriminals to infect a wider reach of computers in a shorter amount of time. Legitimate websites could unknowingly distribute malware to visitors through malicious advertisements (or malvertisements) that are run by third-party vendors, or simply by hackers who have compromised the website itself.
What You Can Do
Rather than using a search engine to search for amazing deals during the Holiday season, it’s better to go to the official website of the online retailer directly. And if you’re thinking about making a purchase from unknown online retailers, simply don’t. When it comes to online retailer that might not be as popular or well-known as Amazon, tools such as MyWOT can give you a better idea of the reputation of the website. Additionally, PC security that comes with anti-phishing is a must in helping you avoid fraudulent websites. And just in case the legitimate website you’re visiting has been compromised, your security software is there to stop the threats before it has a chance to infect your PC!
Nowadays, online banking is practically the norm. You log into your online accounts to pay bills, transfer funds, or just to check your balance. Prior to online banking, you would have to drive to your local bank and wait in line for the next teller to have your transactions completed. With the Internet, you can avoid the line all together simply by remotely logging into your account on your computer and completing your transaction from there any time of day or night.
While the Internet brought upon efficiency and convenience of banking for consumers, this also gave cybercriminals a means to potentially steal your hard-earned cash. Cybercriminals could trick you into downloading a backdoor Trojan that would give them a back entry to your PC, where they could then record your banking credentials. Or, as mentioned in the section on “Electronic Communications”, cybercriminals could deceive you into revealing your credentials through a phishing scam. All of this could be done via the Internet without leaving any trace.
What You Can Do
One of the last things you want to happen to you is for a cybercriminal to have access to your finances. Cybercriminals can take advantage of vulnerabilities in outdated software and use it to infect your PC with malware that can steal your banking credentials, so be sure to have adequate PC security software and to keep your operating system, Web browsers, and other applications up-to-date. When it comes to accessing your online banking account at a public hotspot, only do so if you’re connected to a VPN (virtual private network).
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The main advantage of the Internet is its ability to connect billions of computers and devices to each other. Not only does the Internet create convenience in sharing and receiving information between users, another advantage of the modern Internet is its ability for automation. Enter “The Internet of Things”, where devices and sensors communicate with each other to automatically perform a designated task or function. For example, a smart thermostat could reduce your energy cost by automatically adjusting the temperature when it senses you have left the house. Additionally, it “learns” your heating and cooling preferences and adjusts them to your liking.
While a smart thermostat can aid in reducing your energy cost, the downside is that a hacker could exploit the hardware of the thermostat and use it to spy on home owners. Since smart thermostats have access to information such as when you’re home or away, your zip code, and your WiFi credentials, a hacker who compromises the thermostat will now have access to all of this information.
Smart thermostats aren’t the only devices vulnerable to attacks. According to a recent study, 70 percent of IoT devices are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This list includes thermostats, TVs, webcams, sprinkler control systems, home alarms, and door locks- just to name a few. The truth of the matter is that all of these devices have loopholes and vulnerabilities that could be exploited by just about anyone.
What You Can Do
If you chose to use IoT devices, make sure to examine the privacy policies and security features before making a purchase decision. Also, when new security patches or software updates are available, you should immediately update to the latest version. And finally, don’t be afraid to contact the company that manufacturers the device, should you have questions or concerns about the product.
Never Let Your Guard Down
Are we saying we should go back to how things were before the Internet? Absolutely not! The Internet offers great opportunity and advancement. However, keep in mind, the more convenient something is, the less secure it will be making it a lot more vulnerable for a hacker to exploit its weaknesses. Enjoy what the Internet has to offer, but always be conscious of the potential risks, as doing so goes a long way to helping you stay more secure in this connected world.