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Play it safe

Online dangers and simple ways to avoid them

Velany Fernandes | August 11, 2003 11:19 IST

You may never know who is sending you annoying emails or how your personal details are being used, when you're online. The anonymous, yet invasive nature of the cyber world can be very daunting.

But are your concerns, about online safety, valid?

Yes, they are. But while dangers do lurk in cyberspace, you needn't lose sleep over them. Exercising a little caution could go a long way in safeguarding yourself.

To awaken surfers to this reality, the Mumbai Police, in association with the city's business community is organising a 'Cyber Safety Week' from Aug 18 to 23, 2003. The week will be packed with awareness seminars and panel discussions, which will be held in 15 city colleges.

"The cyber world is safer than the real world"

That is what Vijay Mukhi, chairman of the IT committee, Indian Merchants Chamber had to say at a press conference held on August 5.

This statement would take most by surprise. People do, after all, tend to be rather cautious with their online dealings. Mukhi elaborates, "If someone asked for my credit card information offline, I'd willingly share it. But I'd think twice before sharing the same information online." There is a certain fear about carrying out commercial transactions in cyberspace. Trust doesn't come easy, especially if money is involved.

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VL Mehta, chairman, Computer Society of India (Mumbai chapter), explains, "In the real world, there are certain laws, certain norms in place. That is why people tend to trust easily. However in cyberspace, there are no boundaries, no defined norms. You give information via an electronic medium. You cannot see the person you are interacting with."

This anonymity that surrounds many online activities heightens fear among people. It is to allay these fears and suggest safe practices in cyberspace, that the Cyber Safety Week has been conceived.

First let's identify the most common safety worries.

These are some concerns aired by the computer industry experts present at the conference.

What you need to worry about:

  • Email frauds: Emails that cheat you of huge sums of money by offering fantastic overseas financial schemes and promising great returns
  • Nasty or obscene emails
  • People hacking into your account
  • People publishing your personal details (name, photograph, telephone numbers) on dating or pornographic sites without your consent
  • Identity theft: When people steal your personal information
  • Social engineering: When people trick you into revealing your password
  • Downloading files or attachments that may have Trojans (destructive programs that masquerade as benign applications)
  • Clicking on links that can pick up your personal details.
  • Losing money while shopping online

Precautions you can take:

1. Email security:

  • Be careful where you post/submit your email id on public forums. Share it only with known people.
  • Do not download attachments or files received through emails sent by unknown persons.

2. Password protection:

  • Never give your password to anyone.
  • When selecting a password, make sure it is a combination of alphabets, numerals and special characters.

3. Personal details:

  • Never give personal details to anyone while chatting online. Even if you're chatting with a friend, there could be someone else using his/her id.

4. Online transactions:

  • Conduct online transactions only through Web sites and companies that have proper security checks in place.
  • Many sites use protocols like Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to obtain confidential information. Check if the site you are using is secure. Browsers provide a security option. Look for a lock on the page. A broken lock indicates a lapse in security. Another indicator of a safe site is 'https://' instead of 'http://'

5. At a cyber café:

  • Never surf from a cyber café if you are keying in any sensitive data. The computer may have a program running in the background that is storing all your information.
  • Be careful of inquisitive surfers around.
  • Always logout of all your messengers and any mailbox you have open, before you leave.

6. At home:

  • Most companies regularly release patches for security holes in their software products. Always keep your operating systems and software you regularly use (like browsers, instant messengers, email programs, media players) updated by downloading these patches.
  • Never click on links that say, 'download software' unless you are absolutely sure of the content.
  • Never click on pop-ups that say, 'Click here for more information'

Better safe than sorry

If you stick to the above principle, you can avoid most of the online dangers.

Neeraj Roy, managing director and CEO of hungama.com, asserts, "Those who surf are intelligent, educated people, who would never reveal a lot of details offline. Somehow when they go online, they seem to forget that. By exercising a little caution, people themselves can make the cyber experience safe."

Additional Resources:

Internet security
Quick answers
Email security
Safety rules for kids



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