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Are you safe surfing the world wide web?


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We all surf the internet, from the first rays of the Sun to the darkness of midnight. Swipe left and right or type away with might. The net has engulfed us. Permeated into our reality. At times it becomes confusing whether we are part of it or is it a part of us? We surf its waves of social media, riding the high seas with abandon and without any bother. Oblivious to the many dangers that lurk deep within. The world of cyber-crime.


In an interconnected world both economically and through cyberspace, one can never be free from cyber-attacks.


It is like you walking down a street. You have to use the street because your destination is there. You can keep the pepper spray and keep looking over your shoulder to make sure you are safe. However, are you truly safe? It will take one mishap, one attack to unravel everything.


Your safety is a combination of a number of factors-


1. Your own awareness, preparedness, and diligence - Which streets to avoid- avoiding lonely stretches or odd hours? Do you keep a pepper spray or have taken self -defense classes?


2. The awareness and measures in the community you interact–What type of people are you meeting? How secure is the neighborhood? Is there CCTV surveillance? Are there guards?


3. The deterrence placed by the implementation of regulations and law- Are there laws with penalties to deter criminals? How good is the policing and justice system?


Anyone who has used the internet (the street that we all take daily for work or pleasure) should know they are vulnerable to a Cyber-attack. Once you have logged on to the world wide web, you are never safe.


This vulnerability is increased by the fact that we carry the internet in the palm of our hands. We use multiple apps, social media platforms, emails and do monetary transactions from the device we carry all the time with us. Often our identities are linked across multiple apps and platforms. A result of using one or the other social media account or email to create our profiles.


Anyone who has ever used an email would have been exposed to phishing attacks. If you use multiple apps, then some or the other time there would have been a security alert asking you to change your passwords because their database has been hacked. If you used your social media account to login to the app, then you also need to change the password of your social media account. You would have heard about the episodes where apps or social media platforms sell your data to third parties without your knowledge.


As technology develops and we savor the fruits of these developments, we need to be careful about the risks of being on this street. ‘Our safety is in our hands’ is not absolutely true in the Cyber world because once you log in, you have very little control of what is happening behind the swipes and data you type in.


Cyber-crime is as real as the thief waiting around the corner down the street. People who believe that there can be no physical harm from a Cyber-attack are living in a fool’s paradise. Data has become monetized. The more critical the data the more value it commands. I am not talking about data on your buying preferences or where you eat. Think about the health data being generated and stored with the increasing use of web-based technology and platforms. Think beyond the fitness trackers. There are many net connected medical devices and apps that capture everything from your heart rate to sleep patterns.


It is no longer a question of losing money or paying a ransom. With every part of our lives being recorded, tracked and stored on the web, how important would the health data become?

This data is like carrying a wad of cash in your purse, ready to be plucked out of your hands at gunpoint. However, when health data is stolen, it is not a matter of bank notes. It is about losing a part of your identity and how that can be used against you.


Currently, most healthcare-related Cyber-crimes involve electronic health records. Hackers block your medical records creating issues with your access to healthcare facilities and insurance.


As we begin to use more of technology to record, track and manage our health can cyber criminals produce body harm? It has not happened yet but simple medical devices like insulin pumps, pacemakers which are connected to the net make users vulnerable. What if hackers alter the dosing regimen? What if they manipulate the pacemakers?


Some may scoff it off as heresy or rumor mongering. Here is an example from an experiment done at Ben-Gurion University (BGU), Jerusalem where the researchers reported that “Patients' CT and MRI scan results can be easily changed by hackers, thereby deceiving radiologists and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms that diagnose malignant tumors.”

(https://www.timesnownews.com/health/article/patients-ct-and-mri-scan-results-can-be-easily-hacked-study/395086). If you want to read more about such scenarios, here is a good article- Who owns your health data? https://onezero.medium.com/whose-health-data-is-it-anyway-c06234e8f870. Or this one which talks about medical devices and how to protect them- https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/.XJ4MraCly14.twitter


If technical mumbo-jumbo is not your cup of tea or coffee, grab my novel on this topic. A fictional world where health data is manipulated to be used as a weapon. https://www.amazon.in/dp/B07K1FVM2Y


Well, that is enough of a scare. The bigger question facing us as individuals is how to stay safe on this street because we will need to walk this www at least once a day.


Let us go back to our three steps in the first part of this article and look at it from the perspective of protecting oneself from a cyber-criminal.


1. Your own awareness, preparedness, and diligence–

a. Be aware of risk and harm from a different type of Cyber attacks

b. Which sites to avoid?- Do simple checks, like is it secure?

i. One way is to check the link of the website. Web URLs having ‘HTTPS://’ are more secure than ‘HTTP://’.

ii. While downloading apps check if it has a play store protection mark. For Google play Store read this link- https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/2812853?hl=en

c. Do you keep a pepper spray or have taken self -defense classes?- use licensed anti-virus software on your systems. Make sure not to link all your accounts through social media logins or use common passwords between critical (finance and health-related) and social media accounts.


2. The awareness and measures in the community you interact–on social media connect and interact with people you know. For famous personalities check if the account is verified and genuine before clicking follow.


Don't blindly swipe left and right. Be careful when you take surveys or answer questions on 'What famous superhero you are?' or 'What famous painting fits your personality?' on the social media links.


3. The deterrence placed by the implementation of regulations and law- Most countries have Cyber laws. The European laws are considered the toughest (GDPR- https://eugdpr.org/). There are special police cells dealing with cyber-crime. For those in India here is a link- https://digitalpolice.gov.in/ncr/State_Selection.aspx .


Cyber safety is a matter of concern for every individual. Be aware and be safe. Happy surfing.

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