Tips for Your Web Safety
Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet (yes, this includes what I am writing now). While the Internet was originally dubbed the ‘Information Super Highway’, and while it is most certainly one of the greatest resources in the world for any topic, it’s also well-known for being a major conduit for rumors, lies, and disinformation.
Case in point, Wikipedia: One of the most popular information sites in the world is often used to cite facts due to its rank and placement at the top in most search engine results. It is also renowned as ‘The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit’. If you scour news sources you can find all manner of articles regarding people editing a wiki to their own gain. I am looking at you NYPD.
Social sites like Facebook and Twitter are often inundated with rumors such as the recent one that claims that Americans are immune to the Zika virus. Not only that, but more than once a celebrity death has been misreported, and once it has, the rumor catches fire like a raging inferno and spreads within seconds.
The more outrageous the myth or lie, the faster it will spread. To see how these distortions are shared, Craig Silverman, a journalist, created a tool called Emergent to track them.
Your skepticism shouldn’t be limited to what you can see in your browser. Hackers, con artists and their ilk often target unsuspecting users via email. Either someone with cancer needs your help or a Prince from Nigeria needs to transfer funds to the US through your bank account — either way I have one simple rule when it comes to emails: If I do not know the person, I delete it. I don’t even open it.
But wait, there’s more! Just because you know the sender doesn’t ensure that the email is legitimate. One of your friends could have been infected with something that is using their email address as a proxy for its own malevolent intent. Or even better, they could be pretending to be somebody they are not. It is quite easy to falsify any information in an email including the FROM field.
A common practice is for hackers to send emails out pretending to be a well-known company such as PayPal and informing you that your account needs more security and to please follow the link to enter in your information. The link, looking like a legitimate PayPal link will lead you to a different url in which the hackers have created a clone of the login form you might be used to. There they proceed to collect the login credentials of every unwary user that fell for the scam. This is known as phishing.
Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. The word is a neologism created as a homophone of fishing due to the similarity of using a bait in an attempt to catch a victim.
– Source (look, I used Wiki as a source because I know this is the real definition)
The fact of the matter is, you should never take information at face value. Research the topic before you contribute. Talk to people you know (smart people) and see what they think. When it comes to using a site as a reference or source, take into account it’s reputation. If you read something that seems doubtful, be dubious. Avoid websites you don’t know. Never click on link if you aren’t 100% certain where it will lead. Ignore all requests for information. A reputable business will never ask you for personal information via email.
Most importantly, when it comes to spreading news or something you’ve learned: ‘When in doubt. Leave it out.’
Finally, if this article has convinced you even one iota that you should always cast a wary eye on what you read — you will even have your doubts about what you just read.