Get to know your net better

Enough with the caps lock. Or pouncing on someone the moment they log in to Gtalk. Passwords that are permutations of your first and last name aren’t going to cut it. Nor will the excuse that you lost your contacts with the phone.

brunch Updated: Jul 13, 2013 16:30 IST

The public Internet is 20 now. Are you still treating it like a baby?

Enough with the caps lock. Or pouncing on someone the moment they log in to Gtalk. Passwords that are permutations of your first and last name aren’t going to cut it. Nor will the excuse that you lost your contacts with the phone. The World Wide Web, or the public Internet as we know, turned 20 this year, so if you still think that just using the Net is fine, then even Internet Grandmas (a hilarious meme about what happens when an adorable granny discovers the Net) wouldn’t approve. There’s more to the Internet than using the Wikipedia to find the discography of Taylor Swift or stalking your ex on Facebook. So, time to peel off the kid gloves and start treating the Net just like you should.

We’re not the only ones who feel strongly about using ALL CAPS. Part of Kanye West’s bad rep, apart from naming his daughter North West, is his liberal use of ALL CAPS on Twitter. Keeping Caps Lock on is akin to shouting, so tone it down, unless you are shouting. And text lingo (whn ppl typ lyk ths) is not acceptable beyond high school, neither are spelling and grammatical errors. If you do happen to make them, apologise, with the right spelling using an asterisk. Stop using Facebook as your personal diary. No one wants to sympathise with your endless soap opera of heartbreak. Get a private blog instead. Don’t talk at your Facebook friends, talk to them. Not responding to comments and posts is just bad form. So is ‘liking’ your own posts. And for the love of all that’s holy and good, stop tagging ten thousand people in a photograph. Your baby niece will be just fine without it.

Nailing the big Facebook privacy issue isn’t as simple though, because of Facebook’s constantly changing format. But here’s what you can do. “Flat out block people,” says tech blogger Clinton Jeff. “You can also tweak your profile to make sure no one outside your friend list can view your list of friends, your pictures or even certain parts of your ‘About’ section. This can also be done with people already on your friend list by checking out the privacy settings.”

And don’t be too sure about sharing private information with your friend list either, for any of those 1,500 people could
misuse your personal details. “Be extra cautious about the information you share. Even disclosing your date of birth can be exploited as people often use their birthdays in their passwords, giving hackers a sitting target to exploit,” says Ashish Bhatia, former editor of the PC World Magazine.

And if a YouTube video crops up on your Facebook page, you can get rid of useless ads that play before the trailer of the next big movie. “Something like ADBlock can remove annoying or malicious advertisements that can lead to harmful malware or phishing sites,” he says.

Don’t simply close the window, log out, says Saket Modi, CEO of a Delhi-based cyber security firm, Lucideus. Once you log into any of the social networking sites, information is immediately stored in small text files called cookies. Just closing the window can allow the next user to log in to your account and do more damage than declaring you married or divorced when you are not.

Also, Jeff advises that you always clear your browser cache because it saves all the data of previously visited websites to the computer’s hard drive. Caches can also include sensitive information such as login IDs, passwords or even banking information. So it’s also important to keep them clear for reasons of security. “Head to the ‘tools’ or ‘settings’ section on your browser, where you’ll see an option to clear your cache and cookies under the privacy section,” he says.

Remembering different passwords for different sites is a first-world problem, but we’d say it’s worth it. Not only should you have longer passwords that are a combination of numbers and letters, you should never type them directly if you are in a cyber café or a common computer. They could be recorded by malicious spy programs like Keyloggers, which capture a computer’s keystrokes and send all the data to a third party via email. “A mouse-based keyboard program like Neo’s SafeKeys stalls keyloggers by allowing for you to mouse-click your password on an on-screen keyboard instead of typing it out on keyboard – thereby preventing a keystroke trapper program from recording your password,” says Bhatia.

As tempting as your neighbour’s Wi-Fi might be, don’t browse websites without using the HTTPS protocol, especially if you are working on a super-secret pitch. It will prevent snooping in on your content and ensure you are not communicating with a malevolent third party. “An easy way of protecting your content is the extra security layered SSL connection. If you’re interacting with a website with the prefix ‘https,’ the information you’re exchanging is written in code with scrambling algorithms. It is more secure,” says Bhatia.

Nothing beats the convenience of ordering a hard drive from a website and having it delivered to your office two days later. But credit card frauds happen, a lot. Here’s what you can do to make sure your savings aren’t stolen. “Use net-safe banking, where you can avail your bank’s website to make transactions with a user ID and password provided by them. You can also request the bank to provide you with a virtual credit card which has a different number from your actual card and is valid only for one day. So even if your virtual card details get hacked in the future, your actual credit card details are safe,” says Modi. However, net banking can take time for approval or your bank might not be supported by the e-commerce site you are visiting. If you absolutely need to use a credit card, Bhatia suggests always looking for the padlock symbol in the address bar. “Use the same SSL while using the credit card online. Also, don’t give out your credit card details over email to any company. Most credit card companies just include the last four digits of the card in their messages. So, if someone does ask you for the full number, resist,” he says.

Twenty years on, the Net is no more anonymous. Not only can you be tracked immediately, your browsing history can be easy fodder for advertisers or worse, hackers. Modi recommends using the incognito window on Google Chrome to anonymously search the web and Virtual Private Network softwares like HotSpot Shield to prohibit someone from tracking you physically, by hiding your IP address. As for your phone, it nearly stores your entire online universe in one device. Don’t save banking passwords or credit card information freely on it and always remember to secure it with a password. Bhatia thinks it’s a good idea to install a phone security app which would automatically lock your phone making it inaccessible even if it gets lost. Get an added
security password for your Gmail ID, by availing the service which sends a password to your phone every time you access it from a different computer. So even if you click on a suspicious mail that promises you 5,000 pounds, your account won’t
get hacked.

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From HT Brunch, July 14
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First Published: Jul 12, 2013 18:33 IST