Get Safe Online: Don't be an easy target on the web

Earlier this week, one of our undercover experts in investigating online crime - writing under the alias of ‘DC John Johnson’ – blogged about how online comments could land you in trouble with the law. In his second blog, DC Johnson offers advice to help ensure your online presence isn’t making you a target for criminals.

How to avoid being an easy target online. First lesson -  your online presence.

Let’s start with a bit of a practical exercise. Google yourself - just your first name and last name. Did you find yourself on page one? Oh dear. Unless you’re a celebrity, or you’re wanting to become one, that’s not good. You probably have an unusual name.

What did you find from Googling yourself? Your home town? Your job? Where you work or go to school? Your sporting activities? Scary. Google only shows a small proportion of what’s on the internet, but there are plenty of search engines that will bring back even more.

Your social media presence is how the world sees you. If you do not think that the first thing a prospective employer, or even a prospective date, does when finding out your name is to search for you online, you’re probably living in the past!

The phrase ‘anything you say may held against you….’ may not be part of the UK arrest caution any more, but it can still hold true for what someone says on the internet. So you should bear in mind that your social media presence is, to all intents and purposes, you. You have control over it, and you should get to know how to control it.

Whichever sites you use, whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (really?), seek out and find their privacy controls. View your profile as if you were your worst enemy. Look at all that ammunition: drunk selfies? Controversial opinions?

What could someone do with that information? What could someone do with that information? Well, just yesterday [22 October 2015] it was revealed that the head of the CIA, the United States’ overseas spy agency, had fallen victim to a hacker. Who was this villain? A super hacker capable of building a computer from component parts in less than 10 seconds, blindfolded, using only their teeth? Possibly. But they achieved the breach by using publically accessible information to bypass the security systems. 

This is why using the names of your kids or pets as a password is a bad idea. But that’s for another blog...

Information is currency. Your email address, your name, your home town, your age – it’s  all valuable, and that’s why most social networking sites let you use their services for free. If you’re not paying for a product, then you ARE the product - so make sure you control your information.

Here are a few tips of what online predators are looking for:

·         Identity details sufficient enough to allow them to take control of your bank or credit cards.

·         Details of where you work or your interests. This allows them to craft emails which can be used to take over your computer or infiltrate your work’s security (this is known as Spear Phishing).

·         Details or photos of the nice stuff you own so that they can steal it. Photos of your house, your car or your prized jewellery are particularly useful to burglars.

·         Even the data about your photos can cause problems - if you own a full-frame DSLR camera and upload photos to Flickr or Instagram that contain EXIF information, then if someone can identify you, they know of at least one piece of very expensive property in your home.

·         Also useful are some of your other social networking accounts - the fact you go running every day at 8am and 5pm might help someone work out that your house is unoccupied at those times, or that you run down a dark canal and use a £700 phone. Or the fact that you ride a very expensive bike every weekend on the A61.

·         Details of when your property is vulnerable. The fact you’re going, or are, on holiday is useful to a burglar.

Here are some helpful links which could prevent you from becoming an easy mark:

A basic guide to securing your Facebook account.

Information about adding locations to your tweets.

How to review your photo map on Instagram.

Do you want others to know your running route and the type of phone or wearable you track you run with? These links may be helpful:

Remember - the cyber world IS the real world. You are your digital persona, so take the time to see what kind of image you’re presenting to the world, and if you find anything that your worst enemy could use against you, delete, delete, delete.