Posted by Charlie Recksieck
Even More Important Than Cybersecurity
The need for security and safety online isn’t just being worried about losing a password or not having your feelings hurt in a Twitter war. Yes, many people show their worst selves online; they post things in comments sections that they would never say out loud to another human being. Unfortunately, the world seems to be turning into a slightly angrier place overall and internet unpleasantness sometimes leaps into real life. Since online security can have the direst real-world consequences, I just want to throw some of these ideas out here for your consideration.
(Note: I’m repurposing this article from a December post that we pulled after some online weirdness.)
Look Where Your Name Already Is Online
Google your name extensively. Google your name and address. Google your name and previous address. Google your name and phone number. Google your name and email address.
When you’re worried about your credit rating your first move is to see your credit report then address what’s out there. Security is just as important, so start by seeing what people can see about you.
Also, if you own a website or two, search the WHOIS directory to see the public domain registration info for your web site. If your phone number and address are out there for anybody to see - change to a private listing.
Nothing Wrong With Using Aliases
Definitely makes sense for any endeavor that might be controversial at all. But it also is sensible to maintain a professional career. Obviously, if you’re writing reviews of porn movies on a fan site, don’t use your real name in case your boss or clients Google search you. That’s just basic. I would say anything even just a little frivolous like blogging about your sock puppets is something employers don’t need to see. Use an alias.
Something else that’s kind of a nice benefit is that if you use alias, then you know how marketers are finding you. If I enter a contest as "Contest Recksieck" instead of "Charlie Recksieck" or an email of "firstname.lastname@example.org") then when I get an email on my server sent to that address, I know how spammers got the address.
Your IP address of where your computer is as much of a signature as an email address, a fingerprint or a signature. If you’re investigating somebody or even poking around at a competitor’s site, it’s good to not let them see too much info on you.
That said, if you need to use a VPN to mask some illegal, illicit, or bad behavior on your part - then stop it! As a wise man once said, "If you aren’t ok with something you did being published on the front page of the New York Times, then don’t do it."
Another benefit of VPNs - you can stream movies or some content that’s not available in your country. As a big fan of comedian/actor Steve Coogan, it’s been nice to watch more of his stuff that isn’t picked up by BBC America.
Social Media: Are You The Product?
Let me ask you a question: "What are you getting out of social media?"
A friend of a friend recently posted a cryptic photo on his Facebook which actually could have been a clue that she was cheating on her husband. Why? What was to be gained by that? (I’m trying not to judge the morality or meanness of flaunting an affair; just the stupidity.)
The message of The Social Dilemma (on Netflix, watch it) is to Facebook "users" that they’re "the product, not the customer"; advertisers are the customer. If you really get something out of Facebook besides jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, then knock yourself out. But you’re giving away a lifetime of data and information away for free. OK, I’ll get off my Facebook soapbox.
Ask A Friend To Check Your Social Media For You
If you are having an incident whether it’s from a crazy ex or a troll, these things can be upsetting. But in some cases if there are really actionable or threatening things being sent, it’s not necessarily best to delete everything without looking - those threats maybe need to be noted, saved or reported (see tips below). So having a friend look at things to take note of what needs to be recorded will take you out of the equation. You get to avoid the nastiness without avoiding best practices for dealing with threats.
Links From Unknown Senders
This is 21st century computer safety basic stuff. We all know it, but well-crafted spoof emails can fool even the best of us.
When there’s a link, you can mouse over a link and see where it leads. If a link reads click here to reconcile your Amazon account or contact the IRS, you can see if the link actually goes to evilmonsterswhocanonlymakemoneybyrippingpeopleoff.com. Side note: The I.R.S. doesn’t contact you by email.
I love her but my sister will click anything. In related news, I’ve wiped off her laptop hard-drive and restored her data to a new Windows setup 8 times now over the years.
Google Yourself (again)
Similar to what we talked about in Tip #1 above. But if you think something might be up with you recently, or just want to see what’s new about you online, when you first see your Google search results for yourself, click "Tools" and select the "Any Time" pulldown to be just over the last month, last year, whatever. Now you’ll see only new pages posted or edited with your name on it in that time.
Call In The Cavalry
This is so important. If you live in the United States, you have the full right to the protection of the police and federal government. Don’t be a hero by "toughing it out" or thinking that "that’s probably an idle threat."
Have you heard of serious trolls using "SWATting" (where they call 911 and report an awful crime actively happening at your address so the SWAT team will show up and pull a gun on you). If you are dealing with a troll or crazy person, you might want to proactively call your local police department to make them aware of it. Perhaps they can note it in case you are swatted, or your situation is at least on the radar. And you can ask what their department policy is in these situations. Here’s a great article from NBC News on what some police departments are doingabout this.
If you have a crazy troll, or somebody who’s targeting you in some way - it’s very likely you are not the only person they are doing this to. If everybody reported these threats, authorities can put 2 and 2 together and be more proactive.
Report these things not just for your own safety, but maybe to also protect the NEXT person these trolls are threatening; and subsequent threats usually get more and more extreme.
Save Your Records
Basically, don’t delete any evidence of harassment. That can be email, text messages, back statements, password change notices, etc.
And make sure to monitor your bank account and other accounts like Amazon, investment accounts a little more closely if there’s something funny going on in your life.
Tell A Friend
If any of this kind of stuff or harassment is going on, it is scary! Don’t suffer it in silence or alone. Mentioning it to a friend, colleague or family member will do a lot of things for you. First of all, they’ll remind you that you are NOT overreacting. They’ll have practical advice for you. Saying it out loud will make you feel better. And I guarantee that friend will help you.