Here are some of the most critical internet privacy issues of 2017, about which you should be aware!
Some of the most disturbing Internet privacy issues today involve the kind of information shared on social networks, the threat of online advertisers and lastly, the threat of professional hackers misusing financial information.
The widespread use of the Internet has inevitably led to intense debates about the issue of user privacy. There are individuals who spend all their waking hours on the Internet, divulging information and performing tasks that are easily accessible by millions of strangers from all around the world.
With this vast sea of information out in the public domain, it was only a matter of time before malicious parties started attacking and misusing this information, and this has led to a public outcry against the distribution of such information.
There are several privacy issues which are plaguing the Internet today, and most of these stem from the basic fact that most people do not know what kind of information they should and should not post on the Internet. The first piece of advice that any Internet user should remember is to not put any information out there that you do not want someone else to see.
You should accept the fact that anything that is on the Internet can be accessed by someone, one way or another, so nothing is totally secure. People who carry out financial transactions online need to post their details and information online, but they should also be aware that anything can happen anytime. So always be prepared for the worst.
Pressing Internet Privacy Issues of 2017
The most drastic change in the last few years has been the rise of social networking sites like Facebook. People are now convinced that they need to carry out a pseudo-life over the Internet and Facebook is the best medium for them to achieve this. With a blatant desire to get noticed and to show others how superb their lives are, people resort to putting up private information on the network, which is bound to be misinterpreted and misused.
There have been cases where people have bragged about heading out for the wildest vacation, only to return and find their home broken into, because someone saw this information on Facebook.
The biggest danger to Internet privacy rights over social networks is not from petty thieves and pornographers, it is from advertisers. The same advertisers that provide revenue to the network. The same advertisers that the network would have no qualms selling your most personal information to, for a few extra bucks.
Details about your life, about your likes, about the webpages you visit, about your actual physical location due to location based apps, about the goods you buy and about the people you talk to, are all integrated into the ecosystem of the social network, and why would the network not use this information for their benefit.
There will come a time when advertisers will know everything about you so that they can send you a highly personalized advertisement, and who is to say that this is not a violation of one’s privacy? The only way to avoid this is to regulate the information that you actually choose to share and express over the Internet.
This is something that has been around ever since the Internet first showed itself. Most websites that deal with confidential information provide secured servers to protect users, but there is always a chance that someone will break in and misuse the information. The information may be obtained and then may not be misused. However, the ethical issues leave us perplexed about what is right and wrong, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.
Phishing and Pharming
Phishing and Pharming are among the common methodologies used by hackers to attack privacy of Internet users.
In Phishing, usually a web page which looks similar or exactly same as the one requested by the user is sent to their browser. Then the user enters login credentials, like username and password on this webpage to which the hacker has complete access.
In Pharming, the user gets redirected to a totally different webpage from the one requested. This fraudulent web page then starts fetching critical information like login credentials, sites visited, etc.
There are several other platforms over which such hackers can operate, and the only person who will suffer is the individual whose information has been hacked into. Unfortunately, there is no way around this, since many people do perform financial transactions over the Internet. The only thing one can really do is pay and pray that one does not experience such a calamity.
The Dark web includes websites that are accessible only through a specific software or hardware or a combination of both. Often, a special browser is required to access most of these websites from a regular laptop or computer. The dark web may seem unrelated to the topic Internet Security. However, one should not forget that hacking is one of the several hidden services provided within the dark web.
For those of you to whom Dark web is something new, we will provide an explanation about the same. Dark web basically deals with things that are mostly illegal. There are several websites out there, which are into gambling, selling and buying drugs and weapons, abuse, illegitimate pornography, hiring a hit-man and plenty of other illegal stuff which might be inappropriate for a large number of internet users. Users visiting websites on the Dark web are critically prone towards being attacked by a hacker. Hence such websites should be avoided.
Cookies and Malware
An Internet cookie is a great way for websites to recognize visitors who repeatedly view the website, by sending some information to the web browser of the visitor. As a result of this, the website remembers the preferences of the viewer the last time he came around, and this is a great way for effectively sustaining their viewership. But what does this actually mean for a web user?
In effect, a cookie is nothing more than a simple piece of information, but when this information falls into the wrong hands it can be seriously misused. Imagine that a malicious party gets his hands on an Internet cookie on your machine which tells him all about the website that you visited, the transactions that you carried out, the details that you entered and the preferences that you set. Even additional details like email addresses and passwords are included here, so the risks are definitely very high.
This issue becomes even more serious because some websites store cookies on one’s browser without their permission. This is considered a grave offense, because the information provided in these cookies leads to the activation of malware, spyware, unwanted advertisements, and other spam. A cookie itself does not cause any harm, but the information that a cookie carried on the hard drive of a machine can be severely misused by many malicious parties.
Malware and Spyware are also huge threats to privacy because these are programs that sneak into the machine of an individual through the Internet, and then relay back information to another location from time to time. This eventually leads to data theft, illegal data distribution, and monetization of personal information of Internet users.
The most glaring example comes from Ransomware which attacked several people and organizations around the world. Hackers use a concept called Cryptovirology to plan and execute such attacks. Firstly, a Trojan is directed to the user via e-mail or download links and files. When the user downloads such files or clicks on these links, the system of the user gets encrypted. This renders the information contained to become inaccessible to the user.
The system may display alert messages which say that, your system has been used for illegal activities and locks the system. Then it starts demanding ransom from the user. The decryption may or may not be done even after the user pays the ransom.
Internet Privacy in the United States
More than about 50 percent of the supporting servers of various websites are located in the United States. ISPs and other organizations in the field of information technology demanded that the regulations to protect the privacy of the internet users should be abolished. This demand was made with an intention of being able to sell critical information like user’s location, web and app preferences and other such important details to parties that will generate profits for them.
There were huge of controversies which involved some big names of politicians and lawmakers of America. However, on March 23, 2017, a bill was passed to abolish these regulations.
There are still no detailed laws that govern this realm. This is simply appalling, to say the least, since there are so many millions of people who are constantly online now through advanced smart-phones and tablets. The chances of someone’s privacy getting violated over the Internet are at their highest right now, and we are eagerly awaiting a day when some stringent laws and tracking systems are enforced so that the people who break these laws are dealt with, in the harshest way possible.
Some Useful Tips
Here are some tips that will ensure that your privacy is safeguarded from invasion:
- Always ensure that you use the format https://(name of the website) in the address bar of your browser. For example, https://www.ibuzzle.com
- Ensure that you make payments using your credit and debit cards only to the sources you are certain about.
- Use passwords that are difficult to predict and have a combination of capital and small alphabets, numbers as well as special characters.
- Do not use passwords that are easy to predict, such as names of family members, relatives or pets. Avoid using phone numbers or birth dates in your password. Such information can be easily found out through Social Engineering.
- Do not share critical information like username, password, credit / debit card number, PIN, etc over the phone to anybody under any circumstances. Visit the bank if necessary to make changes in your account.
- Do not share the one time password that you get on your phone with anybody under any circumstances.
- Use secure modes of payment such as PayPal for making online purchases, especially from vendors overseas.
- If you are redirected to a web page different from the one you requested, immediately close your browser and clear the browser history and cookies.
- Learn to keep certain things private and use the social media judiciously.
- Avoid using the Dark web and clicking on links which have suffixes like .onion
- Do not click on the emails or links on websites that look suspicious to you. Be careful while going through the emails in the spam/junk folder of your mailbox. Click on them only if you are sure that it isn’t spam and has been sent from a relevant source.