Posted on: May 6, 2011
Real World Lessons for Online Interactions
Posted by: Brett Bisbe
Read Time (bolded) – 7 minutes
Read Time (comprehensive) – 12 minutes
The Internet can sometimes feel very removed from the real world. Avatars and user names create new identities; introverts can acquire thousands of friends. There is a (false) sense of anonymity and safety in communicating through a computer instead of on the phone or face to face.
Don’t be fooled though, plenty of our dealings on the web are still very much in the real world. Real information (and real money) is the lifeblood of the Internet. Despite endless hours of silly video, Flash games, and cat pictures, the Internet presents many of the same dangers as the real world. Let’s draw some parallels.
• Lock Up The House – You wouldn’t just leave your front door wide open, or protect a garage full of valuables with some flimsy little chain latch. Treat your digital property the same way! This includes setting strong passwords (none of this “qwerty123” business!) and changing them regularly. General security includes, of course, anti-virus software and firewall protection, but it also means locking or logging out of a computer in a public place, and using some caution when browsing or emailing – always log out of your accounts. Always.
• Don’t Believe Everything You Hear – The world is full of people trying to stretch the truth or spin information in their favor. The Internet is no exception – links that promise instant riches or huge rewards are usually scams.
The classic example is an email from some unfamiliar sender, claiming to be some deposed foreign ruler. If you provide your bank information and a small loan, you’ll be repaid many times over. This is an obvious scam (usually called a Nigerian or 419 scam), and most recognize it as such, but they don’t carry this discerning eye into other online activities.
Facebook links (from friends you rarely interact with) promising some shocking video or juicy piece of celebrity news are a sure-fire way to infect your computer with spyware and malware.
Just as you’ve learned to detect body language or tone of voice associated with dishonesty, you can learn to recognize this kind of content on the Internet. Just like your mother told you: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Don’t Take Candy From Strangers – Closely related to identifying online scams or malicious links, avoiding harmful downloads can be learned fairly easily. For email, simply stay away from attachments from unknown email addresses. While browsing the Internet, don’t download anything from a less-than-reputable website. Like the scams mentioned above, potentially harmful downloads will usually be accompanied by some falsified information. Learning how to identify these kinds of threats can save you a lot of trouble by protecting your information and your software.
• Have Something to Fall Back On – With all of the potential threats out there, not to mention the bevy of things that could go wrong with your hardware, maintaining a collection of backup files is always a good idea. The more sensitive or important your information, the greater care you should take in ensuring its survival in the event of a computer catastrophe.
Whether you upload items to a server, burn dozens of CDs, or pile everything on to an external hard drive, it’s important to stash copies of your most valuable files out of harm’s way. When the time comes, you’ll be glad you did.
Imagine Internet browsing as a walk down a busy street. Plenty of the shops are well lit, seem safe, and have what you want. Even some of the less polished looking businesses might have some great items; maybe you can find just what you’re looking for in a place you’ve never been. Enjoy the element of discovery as you wander from place to place.
In between though, are scam artists and pickpockets. Charming raconteurs beckon you from seedy storefronts. Keep your head and move on with confidence. If an alley looks too dangerous, don’t walk down it.