Okay, so it was October. Still this is important stuff.
There are a number of aspects of online safety to consider. These included email and phishing scams, social networking issues, wireless network safety, and online fraud. Each aspect brings in its own set of considerations, but with a little common sense, you can stay safe and happy online.
Phishing (pronounced just like fishing), is a technique by which online scammers try to get your account information in an effort to drain your accounts, or worse, set up new accounts under your name. The practice has been around awhile, slowly gaining in sophistication (sofistication?).
Here is how it works: you receive an email that looks like it comes from your bank or credit card company. It has the bank's logo. It comes from a bank email address, and it looks like your bank's type of communication. Often, they will say they are "updating their records" or "we need to verify your account". They then ask you to click a link that takes you to a Web site like http://bankofamerica.not-a-scam-we-promise.com. There, they ask you for your account number and password. Once you fill in the info… well, they have your info.
For information on phishing scams, and how to avoid them, visit www.onguardonline.gov. They have some excellent videos to help bring some clarity to the issue.
Social Networking Issues
Social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, are a blast. Frankly, it is how my daughter and I communicate most of the time now that she is in college. They allow groups of people to connect and collaborate to an extent unheard of ten years ago.
There are, however, inherent dangers in posting information online. People have been fired for posting what should otherwise be private thoughts to both Facebook and Twitter. The ability to instantly post pictures and information online makes it a bad form of emotional catharsis. It is best to take a moment, consider what happens if everyone reads/sees what you post. If Sister Valerie wouldn't like it, I don't post it.
Here is a video that makes the point quite well: "Think Before You Post"
Cyber bullying is the darker aspect of our networked society. It is becoming an increasingly serious issue, especially among children and young adults (thought it can happen to anyone). In a nutshell, Cyber Bullying "… involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others. -Bill Belsey (via Wikipedia)"
This is an issue, not just for the victims, but for us as educators. There are plenty of tips and resources at www.isafe.org. I highly recommend doing a bit of research on this growing issue.
Wireless Network Safety
Public Wireless networks are usually safe places, provided the IT profession who set up the network is both proficient and benign. However, there are still some tips you can follow to help keep you safe on a wireless network.
- Don't shop or check your bank accounts online when on a public network. Entering personal information on such a network can be hazardous if the network is being maliciously monitored (a rarity on home networks). Browsing shopping sites is usually just fine.
- Try to stick with networks that require a password. If you can jump right on, so can everyone else.
- Don't concentrate on the screen. Make sure you know if anyone is looking over your shoulder.
- Make sure your anti-virus software is installed, running, and up-to-date. Don't have one, ask someone in IT. We have lots of recommendations.
- If you set up your own home network, be very sure to secure it WEP encryption is great. WPA or WPA2 is much better. Check your wireless router's manual for instructions on setting these types of encryptions up. (It isn't terribly hard.)
This is the biggest money-maker for scammers. Online fraud can take many forms. The most vicious forms can cause irrespirable harm to your computer and credit score. There are two main techniques to getting your information online; malware installation and flat-out fraud.
Malware refers to programs that are installed on your computer, with or without your knowledge, that then send information back to other computers. This information is usually personal and not something you'd normally let your mother-in-law have. To get a crash-course in spotting malware, try this game from OnGuardOnline.gov.
Fraud exists online, just as it does in all other avenues of commerce. There are steps you can take to make sure that the site you visit is legitimate.
- Is it a name you recognize? Amazon.com, Overstock.com, NewEgg.com have a long standing presence online. Ask around. If someone else has purchased from these sites, they may have a better reputation.
- Do they have a terrestrial address? If you can walk up to their door, they are less likely to be fraudulent.
- Is their credit card page secure? While it is unlikely that someone is sniffing your connection (see wireless safety above), only legitimate sites will have secured connections.
- Do a Google search. If there is a scam out there people will blog about it or post information on the forums. Search for the name of your site in a search engine, ignoring ones that have that name in the URL.
You know who has good tips on avoiding fraud? The FBI (www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/internetschemes.htm), that’s who.
For more information on online security, please visit www.staysafeonline.org.
Update: 4.6.2012 ~ Even More Resources
In addition to general online safety, these resources also cover cyberbullying, Internet safety for kids, and fostering online communication.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Ms. Svensson's 8th Grade Computer/Technology Class for providing these excellent resources!