It is always a good idea to headline a column with something that reads larger than life. If you can throw in superlatives like ‘the world’s biggest’ or ‘the world’s most dangerous’, it is even better. Today’s column, though, isn’t about hype and exaggeration but is very real. The only difference: the world’s deadliest destinations are closer than you think. They reside on your computers and laptops and phones and Tablets and you may even be taking a trip there on a daily basis, completely unaware of your misadventures.
Recent events have brought this deadly maze even closer than ever before. Great icons have fallen, the unbreakable has been broken and and the impregnable has been, well, penetrated. What most of us dismiss as a story, as news, as a happening far, far away from our daily lives may well be around the corner. This is not a mild cautionary tale. I am not trying to gently forewarn you. I am telling you this as straight as I can: be very scared. And very aware.
When the Sony PlayStation Network got hacked, it was as though a religious bastion had crumbled. The worst fears of every netizen, every gamer, every credit card user on the Internet, every techie, came true. For those unaware of this sequence of events, let me give you a synopsis because it does affect you in more ways than you can imagine. Just like every app store and every social network, the PlayStation Network holds all your private details including your name, phone number, address and most important, credit card information. You readily give all these details as a network like this is thought to be impossible to break into. The best professionals in the business run these networks, security experts monitor them 24x7 and the level of protection outclasses Fort Knox. On paper!
As has been unfortunately demonstrated, the indestructible was destroyed and the invincible was defeated! Three times. Yes, in a chain of events that would rival any Shakespearean tragedy, the network was hacked into thrice. As Sony’s top executives were bowing down (they literally did) to the world to apologise for the first break-in, the network was being hacked into again right behind them and at that very time. More than 100 million registered accounts were broken into and vital personal information was taken away – including credit card information. The news understandably panicked users across the world; many cancelled their credit cards; banks got into the act and generally all hell broke loose.
Why does this matter to you if you’re not on the PlayStation Network? Because, just like all the PSN account users, we all sit in in a complacent bubble where we believe it will never happen to us. Hacking and online attacks have reached levels more sophisticated than ever before. Most of us are told about online safety, phishing, malware and viruses and most of us do tend to be mildly proactive about it. Like installing an anti-virus (even if it makes our system crawl) or a malware alert software (and run it religiously once a month). Then there are those that run a certain operating system from a certain fruity company and live under the illusion that they live under a Star Trek Enterprise protective shield where nobody wants to harm them ever.
We feel protected, we feel completely secure and we tend to be a little silly and we get adventurous. That’s when our online sojourns lead us smack-bang into the world’s deadliest places. You may be surprised to find just how many places and how many innocent situations can lead to a complete disaster, including losing control of your system, your device being used to hack into others, losing private data and information, all your passwords being exposed and even wiping your hard disk completely clean. There are simple things we can do to make sure that we don’t suffer in an outage of epic proportions. Yet we do very little.
Next week, we’ll get into the things we do that make us vulnerable and see how to sidestep the pitfalls along the way. Innocuous everyday activities, things we do casually and without a second thought; places and websites we visit with zero concern; even innocent things like clicking on a shortened link on Twitter can start a deadly chain of events. Why, your cool habit of downloading movies and songs off Torrents will eventually lead to a fiery disaster; even a once-in-while-quick-glance-porn can leave a permanent scar; a malware flash file running on a website can take you down in a flash; your super-duper GPS-enabled location-tagging smartphone can leave you with no place to go; and the brilliant trio of fake pdf files, fraudulent mails and scam anti-virus software means it is a minefield out there. Join me next week as we journey deep into the World’s Deadliest Places.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
- From HT Brunch, May 15
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