Nearly all of us–including me, Daniel–use social media, apps, and play games online that are advertised as being free for anyone to sign up and enjoy. But how do these sites and applications receive funding? What if free isn’t really free?
Many websites and applications that are seemingly free utilize information gathering software to mine your profile and internet history to collect information about you: your preferences, hobbies, location, and even data on other websites that you routinely visit. This information can then be sold to advertisers and 3rd party websites. Because of this, most social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter would like your profile and posts to be as public as possible – that way they can provide more information to advertisers and application developers, and turn a larger profit.
With this in mind, what are some ways to protect yourself?
First, before signing up for a social media website or application, read the terms of service before agreeing to them. It sounds simple, but I would argue that most people give these binding documents a quick scan before agreeing to them, without checking to see what they actually say. Each service (and sometimes even each application, game, or individual Facebook page) has varying degrees of what it means to keep information “private,” but each site’s definition should be found within the terms of service. This goes for online games as well. Users should be diligent in reading a game’s terms of service because many online games want to scavenge your personal information to then sell to advertisers and make money, just like social media websites.
Another action to take is logging out of social media when you are doing other things online. Most social media platforms gather information beyond their borders, under the pretense of learning how to provide you with better choices. However, some sites can mine for your personal information and browsing preferences when you are not even using the website.
Like anything else, it is important to be mindful of all aspects of social media as we dive into these new technologies. This includes knowing why and how websites can suggest pop-up advertisements that appear related to websites you were just visiting, and knowing that even if a website or application is advertised as being “free to use,” that it is not always the case. Lastly, and most importantly, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from this sort of data mining.
Unfortunately, one way the internet can be unsafe for our students is if a student is being cyberbullied. I (Laura) definitely do not know how to make every internet interaction positive, but I have read one book that I want to share with you that has some good information and suggestions.
It truthfully examines facts. Is there really more bullying online than there was before? How has bullying changed in the online world, and how is it the same? One of my favorite things about this book was its commitment to seeing both sides of a story and its anti-sensationalist tone.
It looks at bullying from a student’s perspective. This means that sometimes what adults see as bullying, students see as “drama” (52). This difference in perspective means that adults treat the situation differently (and more seriously) than students see it, which can make it difficult to end. This leads to point 3:
It looks at solutions frankly. Bullying is not a problem that a one day seminar can completely eradicate. (This should not be a surprise to Christians who believe that every human being is sinful.) In fact, the book talks about how adults often make things worse for students who are being bullied (54). That’s a sobering thought for parents and educators.
It looks at solutions that work. The end of the book talks about what does actually make a difference in bullying (i.e. focused, long-term interventions) and presents case studies of schools who have decreased their bullying.
Bazelon, Emily. Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the
Power of Character and Empathy. New York City: Random House, 2013. Print. (Also available as a Kindle or Nook book)
Continuing our posts on cybersecurity for National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Tomeka, our TK-6th grade Technology Teacher and Technology Integration Specialist, shares with us about passwords:
Why are passwords important in the security of your computer?
Passwords provide the first level of protection for your computer. The stronger your password the harder it is for hackers and malicious software to infiltrate. You should change your password at least twice a year and NEVER give out your password. The secret is to make passwords memorable but hard to guess.
Tips to a strong password:
Is at least 8 characters long
Does not contain username, real name, or company name
Does not contain a complete word
Significantly different from previous passwords
Should contain one character from each of the following categories (uppercase letters, lowercase, numbers, and symbols)
The security world often refers to the “circle of trust.” In my own understanding of this phrase, there are various factors which help define what the “circle of trust” actually consists of. It may represent any of the following:
A hierarchical relationship (like a boss to a subordinate)
A mutual situation (like coworkers)
A mutual trust relationship (like marriage)
Blood relationships (relatives)
Selective relationships (like friendship)
I’m not sure if this list is all inclusive, but I think many close relationships can be summed up in the list above.
When we talk about these relationships, we know that they are strongest when they can be observed physically. When we see a boss giving instructions to an employee face to face, we can observe the serious tone of a communication. When we see camaraderie between coworkers, we can easily get a sense of common purpose.
However, the trust seems to break down when we try to shove these relationships into data. We turn these highly valued relationships into SMS texts, emails, instant messaging, twitter posts, and every other form of electronic communication. When I receive a text from a friend, I have to imagine the message in the context of that friendship. It is like the fabric of what makes these relationships real becomes some sort of illusion and I have to use my imagination in conjunction with the data in order to interpret context.
So, here’s what happens. A boss goes on a valued business trip, he/she sends a message to a subordinate approving a bank transfer of millions of dollars. The message is clear and the dollar amount is precise, right down to the penny. The subordinate recognizes the tone and nature of the communication and doesn’t flinch on the amount of money and therefore approves the bank transfer. The problem is, the boss never sent the message. The message was sent by someone socially engineering the subordinate into approving this transfer. Once the money is transferred, it is immediately dispersed to other bank accounts making it impossible to recover the money.
Is the story fact or fiction? The story is fact. A wireless company recently made this mistake. The mistake cannot be pegged solely on the subordinate. The mistake can definitely be attributed to the casual nature of digital communication that many of us have fallen prey to. All of us can say that it would be so easy for the subordinate to place a simple phone call and make sure the request was valid. And, though we would be right, we often make similar mistakes on a daily basis. Sometimes we don’t even know we are making them.
Maybe we aren’t losing millions of dollars, but we are losing precious communication skills.
What does all this have to do with circles of trust? The fact is, a circle of trust means nothing if we don’t clearly communicate with each other. If someone in your circle of trust sends you an attachment, do you blindly open it? What about if they send you a text? Do you blindly rely on its contents? Have you fallen into the trap of believing that your email, SMS texts, and other forms of digital communication are secure? That is the illusion.
To combat the illusion of trust, you can do some simple things.
When receiving a communication you aren’t 100 percent clear about, discuss it directly with sender for clarification (phone or even video chat will suffice).
Temper the amount of confidential or sensitive information you include in your digital communications. Don’t just attach all and send… that’s a recipe for disaster
Always look for your domain name in email communications. In other words, think twice before ever responding to a fellow employee or boss outside of their work-sanctioned email address. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a secure communication, but will help with outsiders that are phishing for information.
Take a closer look at emails that include attachments. It seems that we see attachments, we get curious and just click away. If there are attachments that you don’t really expect to be receiving then asking questions may save you from falling prey to a malicious attachment (and even PDF files can be malicious).
Know the origin of USB drives and external storage before plugging them in. Some attacks can be as simple as sticking a piece of malicious code on a USB drive and plugging it in. If it doesn’t come from your circle of trust… then you’d better think twice before plugging it in. But, even if it is in your circle of trust, you may want to check with the sender before you just pop it out of the envelope and into your precious computer.
A good IT department won’t ask you for your password. They will have you type it in on screens where it is required. … and never email your password, write it down on a sticky or paper scrap, communicate it over the phone, SMS text it, or anything else. It is between your brain and your fingers as they type it on a keyboard!
It is up to you to keep your data safe. Don’t rely on someone else to do it for you. Have a proactive mindset and use common sense.