Personal Security on the Net

Warning: the Internet may contain traces of nuts.
~Author Unknown

Today’s internet has an estimated population of over 1.2 Billion Netizens.  If we considered it a country of it’s own, it would cover a land area larger than the old Soviet Union and more populated than the country of China.  This country would exist partly in the real world, part in a fantasy world and would be inhabited by people of all walks of life.

The Internet is arguably a tool for great possibilities involving social change, it provides us with ways of interacting with people from all over the world in ways not possible  2 decades ago and new ways of doing business.  Sadly it also provides some with a tool that can be used for darker purposes in ways not 20 years ago.

The Real World

Life is just a fantasy, can you live this fantasy life
~ Aldo Nova

There is a term out there used by some people on the net known as “The Real World”.  I hated this term with a passion for over 10 years now.  Even though I will sometimes use the term myself, I have always felt that it downplayed the reality of the net and made the net seem as if it were a harmless world, like of the nature that you’d find in some elaborate role-playing game.  The Internet can be as real as the so-called “Real World”.  We can fall prey to others who wish to take advantage of others on the net and the effects can be every bit as real.

Everyone On The Net isn’t There For You!

You may never understand
How the stranger is inspired
~ Billy Joel

One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen on the net is the idea that everyone is on the net to make friends or to be open and honest with others.  Although it is true that you can meet some of the best people you have ever seen through the net, the opposite is equally true.  On the net you can meet some real scumbags who are out for their own self-gratification and don’t really care one iota for anyone or anything else.  It isn’t easy to pick out the worst elements of the net, in the past I met some who seemed like really decent people… right up until they turned on someone for no good reason.

Internet Crimes And Near Crimes

I cant believe the news today
Oh, I cant close my eyes and make it go away
~ U2

According to an article entitled “Internet Crime Complaint Center Releases 2007 Statistics” by Matt Sarrel:

“In 2007, the IC3 received 206,884 complaints of Internet crime of which they referred more than 90,000 to law enforcement.  In total, there was almost $240 million in reported losses, a $40 million increase over 2006.”

Much of the harm that can be done to us on the net involves fraud of some sort.  People who are unscrupulous by nature have all sorts of scams to defraud us out of our hard-earned money.

Harassment and stalking are other things which can occur on the net, and they occur more often than some people wish to believe.  Harassment can be minor things, such as one member of a forum hassling another consistently with-in a forum… or it can be major by one person going outside the net to harass a person in their real life.  Stalking became such a problem on the net that it developed a new term called “Internet Stalking”.  Internet stalking allows people to follow others around on the net with-out ever leaving their computer chair and it can be as much of a pain as in the “Real World”.

According to Wikipedia, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children funded a study by the Crimes Against Children Resource Center in 2006 of youth Internet users over a five year period. The findings were:

An increase in encountering unwanted exposures to sexual material (from 25% to 34%)
An increase in cases of online harassment (from 6% to 9%)
A decrease in those receiving unwanted sexual solicitations (from 19% to 13%)
40% of all youth Internet users said online solicitors asked them for nude or sexually explicit photographs of themselves.
Only a minority of youth who had unwanted sexual solicitations, unwanted exposures to sexual material, or harassment said they were distressed by the incidents. One-third of the solicitations (31%) were aggressive, meaning the solicitors made, or attempted, offline contact with youth.

Predators abound on the internet and the worst part is that it’s fairly easy to fool someone into thinking your are someone, or something, you aren’t.  These predators do not always confine their activities to the net, there have been case after case reported over the years, as well as sting operations set up by those in the Law Enforcement community and the Media, which proved internet predators are alive and well.  There are even cases where these predators came from other countries to prey on our young.

As with most things, there are sites out there who wish to debunk the stats found for some reason.  There are such articles as Schneier on Security (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/02/fear_of_interne.html) and I Speak Of Dreams:  Debunking Internet Predator Statistics (http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2006/05/debunking_inter.html) which try to debunk the stats being given out.  The real fact of the matter is that in some cases these debunkers are right or partially right.

Cyber bullying is another phenomena on the net which is not only practiced by teens on the net, but adults that one would normally think should be mature as well.  The net allows normally mature adults to behave in ways they would most likely never do in person.  It the next section we will touch on a few of the reasons why this type of thing happens.

The Criminal Element

Trust everybody, but cut the cards.
~ Finley Peter Dunne

The Internet is a great place for the criminal element to thrive, due to it offering some things which are advantages to them.  In addition many law-enforcement agencies are either over-burdened with work or they don‘t take reports of net-crimes seriously enough to follow up on.  The following are only a few of those advantages::

Anonymity

The first thing all Netizens should understand is the fact we don’t know to whom we are speaking. On the net we can claim to be whoever, or whatever, we wish to be… we only have to keep to the script and be consistent in what we tell people.

Obscurity

I could say I am anywhere I choose and most people wouldn’t know or bother to find out.  I could also use a variety of methods to show I am from where I say.  I can go to great lengths to prove where I live, but most often I could be a little evasive in offering proof because of personal net security reasons.

Personality

We can seem to be anyway we wish on the net.  We can seem like the nicest person in the world, but in reality we can be nasty and mean.  A person can act as if they are a wholesome and honest person, but all the while plotting a way to take advantage of you in ways that would really hurt you mentally, physically, emotionally or even financially.

Trusting Souls

I’ve been on one net or another for almost 15 years now and the one thing I learned is that most people are trusting souls.  My theory on this is that since they are on the net to have fun and not harm anyone, then they figure most others are too.  They are often easily fooled by people who ‘seem” nice or pleasant.  Even if they are aware of the fact that there are some real sleazebags on the net, if you talk to them long enough and treat them right… they automatically assume you are an o.k. person.  This plays in favor of those who are out to take advantage of people.

The Freedom of Speech And Other Rights.

Our right to throw a punch ends where it invades another’s personal space!
~ Anon.

Censorship is something many Netizens oppose, they often take the default position of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression.  They most often resort to such claims when it is they, or friends of theirs, who have been called down because of some violation of the rules.

There is an old adage which states, “Your right to throw a punch ends at the tip of my nose”, I personally prefer the revised version of the saying “Our right to throw a punch ends where it invades another‘s personal space”.  The intention of either saying is to impress upon the minds of people that the things we view as rights and freedoms do not only pertain to them… they are for everyone.

Internet Concerns

“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
~ Will Rogers

Our main concern is not over what information that big business or the government has on us for that information is most often used for valid reasons and they don‘t always make the personal information on people they have records on public.  Real businesses have a thing called The Privacy Act which they must abide by or face penalties.. There are also certain records on files in the business world that are not on computers, let alone on the Internet.  Other businesses keep their business records separated from their internet computers.. Yet there are some places that do put out information, under the guise of public information, which are quite personal.  Many court systems across the country, for example, have information online about the court cases which went through their courts.

We are concerned too much over what information these people have, but we are concerned over the information on us which Joe Netizen can obtain on us… or should be. In other words we have to differentiate between public and private records.  There used to be a saying that dealt with throwing the baby out with the bathwater. When we justify that some insurance company or the Government has data on us to support the idea of our giving out things like where we live, how often our 14 year old daughters are alone at home and when, or how much we earn a year… we are simply allowing the mindset to grow that we don’t need to be held liable for our own personal safety.

It’s not always easy to find accurate information about a particular person on the net.  You do have things such as  People Searches on the net, but to get any possible information of value… you have to pay for it.  Even if you pay for the data, there is no guarantee that information, or all of that information, belongs to the exact person you are interested in.

There is also a thing called “The White Pages“ or “Internet Phone Books“, however the drawback to that is if  a person doesn’t have a phone in their name then what good does it do?  There is also a thing called Private Phone Numbers, where the person pays a little extra a month to keep there phone number unlisted, in most cases these online phonebooks will not contain these private numbers.

Many people like to use  IP Trackers, but mostly these trackers will only take you to where the server is located or it will go to a thing called “City Level“.  In large areas like Phoenix or Los Angeles, these trackers don‘t always take you to the sections of the city or the neighboring cities.  For example, if you lived in the Phoenix Valley, a search on your IP number may say Phoenix, Glendale or Tempe when you actually live in Avondale or North Phoenix or Peoria.

Another search site are places like ARIN or RIPE.  Both of these are known to not even take you to the proper city, let alone straight to your home.  A very common result from WHOIS is Amsterdam and in the past that was said to happen because many servers go through that city, as does many proxy sites.

There are other sites on the net which can be utilized, but even with them the person doing the research has to have something known in order to judge whether the information they obtain is good or bad.

Never Assume… for it makes an @ss out of U and Me

Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups.
~ Steven Segal

Steven Segal was basically right when he made this quote.  When analyzing facts, people have the natural tendency to make leaps of logic, they put 1 and 1 together and get 3 or 4 for their answers.  Another thing to remember is that once someone gets it into their head that something is right, it’s hard to shake them of that belief.

Genealogy is the study of one’s ancestry, basically.  It’s very much akin to what we are talking about here.  When searching an ancestor, you may find dozens of possibilities in the records for the person you are researching.  Sometimes you will find people that you are convinced are your people, only to find out later that you made a mistake.  Anyone can assume something is right just because it seems right, but to successfully find your ancestors, you have to weed through the facts and match up various bits of information.
Trying to find someone on the net today is not unlike researching genealogy.  You still have to search through many names and facts in order to match it to the person you are wanting to find.  Most often the only way to confirm that the person you want to find will depend upon information from that person or people who actually know that person.  If we neither confirm nor deny, all most research will do is provide unproven claims.

Now, as a side note, if a child predator on the net is after your child… odds are they won’t care if they get your child or someone else’s.  The upside is if they pick the wrong child, that child might end up getting the person caught because they have no idea who the person approaching them is and they call for help.

In Summary

Privacy is not something that I’m merely entitled to, it’s an absolute prerequisite

~ Marlon Brando

We can’t expect to live in today’s world and have none of our personal information let out to those we feel don’t need it, but we take precautions against Identity Theft and other crimes against people.  We may tear up or shred items with our important information on them before throwing them out in the garbage or we don’t give anyone talking to us on the phone or in person any bit of information they ask of us.  I know many people refuse to put their social security numbers on their state driver’s license because they would rather remember a new number than have someone get their data.

On the net we also should strive to not make it easy on the criminal element.  Many sites now will tell you such things as “We will never ask you for your password” and they advise you to notify them of any case where someone claims to be a part of the site and asks such information.  In message forums we ought to be aware of what we tell people, search your own messages and see how much information you let out and then learn the lesson by watching what you say.

Even Business men and women need to be aware of safety on the net.  Many businesses have facilities set up for their business and they have phone lines and internet accounts for that purpose.  Other people who operate businesses on the net don’t have such things.  These people will often work out of their homes and use the tools they already have because they really can’t afford to do more or because the opt to work from home.  These are the people who need to be more wary of the information they let give out.  There are several ways to deal with the business/personal safety issue — but I will name two good ones:

1. Email:  The purpose of email is to provide a way to be contacted or to contact someone.  Usually emailing is a quicker and easier way to contact those in the business world than by phone or a written letter.  Take a look at the number of successful business people who provide email addresses, they do this for a valid reason.  You can start off by only allowing people to contact you by email, once you get and review the email then you can decide whether you want this person to have your home phone or home address.  It’s like part of a scanning process.

2. Cell Phones:  Cell phones are a great way to avoid giving out your home phone number.  Most Cell Phone search sites will only take you as far as the city level and the cell phone is great for people on the go.  Cell phones and services can be very affordable, you can go to the Tracfone site and get 50 minutes of air time and a phone for about $25.  I prefer using one of the regular cell phone companies and you can get a free phone with your service for $30, more or less.   Those people that want to spend more can do so, if they wish, and they might be better off… but the idea here is to show how inexpensive a cell phone can be.  With a cell phone you can also shut it off when you are at the doctors or out playing golf.

Not everyone on the net are only on the Net for strictly business reasons. Some of us enjoy visiting the message boards or doing the Myspace or Facebook thing.  If you are of this type of person, you may wish to separate those identities from your business identity. In some cases that will be hard because in the business world people tend to go by their real names.  You may look into whether the systems you are on allows for multiple accounts and set up your Business account with your business email address.

Remember, it is up to you as to whether you want to not only run risks for yourself… but for your family and friends as well.

Source:

US Legal

2008 Internet Fraud, Scams and Crime Statistics

Internet Crime Complaint Center Releases 2007 Statistics

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