July 4, 2012

What the tech? Protecting yourself online

(Photo illustration by Ted Schnell • BocaJump)

Third of three

By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Wednesday, July 4, 2012

That waterskiing photo you posted to your Facebook page — the pic from the Wisconsin Dells — seemed like a fun idea at the time. You let all your friends know just how much fun you’re having on your vacation.

Unfortunately for you, within hours after posting this little “advertisement” that you were out of town, one of your Facebook “friends” came across it. He is a guy who supplements his income by breaking into peoples’ homes. So, while you were out on the lake in the Badger State, he picked up a big-screen, high-definition TV, a Bose sound system and that laptop you left on your nightstand, not to mention the cash you had stowed in the cookie jar.

Hope you were insured.

Welcome to the dark side of social media, just one part of the Internet’s own mayhem. Burglaries are among the more well-known crimes linked to careless social media use, but sex predators are known to troll the sites as well, looking for potential victims. Then there are “phishing” scams, email scams, Trojan horse viruses, fake Internet sites that trick people into giving up personal information that criminals can use to raid the bank accounts or steal their identities.

Part of the carelessness with social media and elsewhere on the Internet often lies with forgetting to whom you are broadcasting your information.

“If parents knew what their kids were posting on Facebook, they’d probably put an end to a lot of it,” Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said in a June 27 interview. While some parents allow their children to use Facebook — as long as the parents can be their Facebook “friends,” that no longer is a guarantee the parents can monitor their children’s activities. Facebook has developed features that allow the user to target messages to select groups.

“So there’s always a (need for) constant monitoring,” he said. “It’s a big problem, and it’s going to continue.”

The lack of such monitoring is one reason people point to in explaining the rise in recent years of online bullying — whether on Twitter or Facebook or message boards. In one case, a girl committed suicide in a case of bullying that was blamed on another child’s parent.

It’s a trend that is being addressed locally.

“I’ve spoken to Abbott Middle School students each year on the subject of bullying,” said Karen Flanagan, the emergency management coordinator for the Elgin Police Department. “I incorporated role playing with the students to demonstrate that they were either a. the bully, b. being bullied, or c. watching the bully and not reporting it.

Flanagan, a civilian part-time employee with the Elgin Police Department’s Emergency Management Office, also has worked as a the department’s community relations liaison, making Internet safety presentations to Parent-Teacher Organizations, neighborhood groups, businesses and other groups.

“I also speak to youths about the dangers of social media when they give out too much information.”

She has a packet of information dealing with Internet safety for adults as well as children.

Adults could learn from this as well.

But another of the risks associated with social media comes with not understanding the technology.

For example, many cameras, including those in cellphones, record information — called metadata — that is embedded in the photo, such as the day and time the photo was taken, the size of the photo, its resolution. But increasingly, these cameras also record a geotag in the image’s metadata. A geotag is the location where the photo was taken. 

For the tech-savvy, that information is not difficult to access. So even if you don’t say in your post where you took the photo or your location when you posted it to Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, the geotag may have that information, and it is data that criminals can find easily.

Some fans show no fear whatever in terms of geotagging. A cellphone application called foursquare, which has grown to 20 million users worldwide since it launched in March 2009, records millions of “check-ins” each day. The app allows users to use their cellphones to post to social media the places they stop to shop, dine, have a drink or even make a withdrawal from the bank.

Within a year of its introduction, however, reports started popping up across the country that some robbers were using foursquare to find their victims, either by monitoring Facebook or Twitter.

Education the public about Internet safety, which includes social media use, is key to heading off their victimization, Swoboda said.

What the tech?

    No comments: