Quashing popular internet and cyber security mythology

Photo Credit: Painting by Rene Antoine Houasse

Part 1

Introducing you to the mythical tales of the cyberspace

A billion years ago Zeus was on a daily stroll in his garden and noticed that his flowers were wilting, especially his beloved Hera’s favorite; the lily. He decided to contact Antheia and find out what was going on since she was the goddess of flowers. It was going to take 2–3 business days to reach Antheia since she was way over in Crete. So he came up with the genius idea of writing a letter, tying it to one of his lightning bolts and hurling it towards Crete. The letter reached her instantly and she fixed the flowers. And that my friends was how the internet and Instant messaging was borne.

Now I’m just kidding but it makes for a good internet myth to tell your children. Doesn’t it ?

Let’s get on to the real stuff.

I was watching a movie with my siblings on a typical Sunday evening. The title is Unfriended: Dark Web. Now I wouldn’t like to spill the beans on what happens in the movie but the basic summary is that there was a lot of hacking, blackmail, the dark web and some real scary stuff. You should really check it out.

My sister asked a few questions after we were done with the movie that drew my attention to the fact that most people believe in some unlikely stories surrounding cyber security and the cyberspace. Some questions were absolutely laughable but some were actually quite practical and I realized that she may not be the only one who had these questions or thought this way.

This piece is basically to debunk and confirm (don’t be scared) some of the various myths you’ve heard over the years

Now before I start I would like to make a significant point:

  • It is important that your password is not the same across various platforms, because when platforms are hacked, hackers often copy and pass on usernames and passwords. See my previous article on how to know if you’ve ever been compromised and some best practices for setting up a password.

This article will likely be in two parts so this is the first of the series. Five myths will be discussed in each part with a third probable if I obtain more FAQs from my readers.

Let’s begin

1. Every mail I have ever sent is read by Google

Image Credit: Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Well yes, they definitely do read your mail (Don’t freak out yet!). What they actually have are automated scripts that scan the contents and find out who you’re sending it to. This is done as a security measure and also to dispatch relevant ads and search results. But what they do not do is read your email and tell your government what’s in it. They have a very strict privacy policy. For a government to gain the exact contents of your mail they have to produce a warrant or a subpoena for that. So don’t worry about your mother sharing embarrassing baby pictures of you with your grandmother. I can guarantee you that no Google employees are huddled around your photos fawning or laughing.

2. The government is monitoring me through my microphone and camera

Image Source: weburbanist.com

Now it’s definitely possible to trigger someone’s camera and mic using a remote access tool installed on the target device. And that’s something hackers, criminals and your government can do! But in order to do that they’ll need an official warrant from a judge. Unless you’re an Edward Snowden then you shouldn’t really be on guard from your government. So It’s far more likely you’re being watched by hackers. The creepiest thing about this is that they can trigger and disable the little light that shows your camera is in use. If you want to prevent this it’s recommended you put a sticker over your camera. Most people are not targeted anyway so you usually don’t have to worry. I recommend you download a very good antivirus and activate it on the most powerful setting available. The good ones are able to detect such activities. I recommend Avast, though you would have to pay to access the highest and best features, it’s totally worth it.

3. The dark web is only full of nefarious activities and you go there at your own risk.

Image Source: AbnerLanderosArt on Deviant Art

Well….. that’s not true. Sort of. The dark web is actually just part of the deep web. Let me explain.

The deep web is the part of the World Wide Web that is not discoverable by standard engines. Now the dark web being a subset of the deep web is just a network of sites that you have to access using a Tor browser or any other sort of guaranteed complete anonymous browsing application or tool. And the websites on the dark web could have ANY sort of content. It’s not necessarily used for child trafficking and selling contraband. If I told you Facebook has a dark website you wouldn’t believe me. But it’s actually present and available for use. Basically the dark web is used by anyone who needs anonymity online like journalists, activists, witnesses of heinous acts, people fearful of being spied on and so on. If you venture further on the dark web, it is wise to take some safety measures. Since the dark web is unregulated, there is an increased risk of malware infections and cyber criminals going after your data. Make sure you have an antivirus software installed and that you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts and secures all your internet traffic. It safeguards your privacy online and protects you against certain forms of cybercrime.

4. Privacy does not exist anymore

Image Source: Mostafa Meraji

First of all I need you to understand that privacy doesn’t mean moving to the Himalayans and building a house made with aluminum foil so that no signals and data related activity, moves in or out. It’s really about having control over your information. It’s about understanding what kind of trace you leave behind, how to limit that trail and regulating those who can see it. Now if privacy was truly dead do you think some governments all over the world would keep trying to kill it by proposing new laws and bemoaning about all the things they can’t get into. (Apple’s privacy policy alone is enough to show that it’s definitely not dead). So yes, there are some genuine concerns about your data and privacy but most of the time the law and policy makers fight for your right to privacy against “Big Tech” companies and they mostly win. So be rest assured that it’s definitely alive and raring to go.

5. A strong password will not get me hacked.

Image Source: memegenerator.net

That is partially true. A strong password is one of the things you need to secure your account because when your password gets compromised your username, email and password is dumped and shared among hackers. Apart from passwords one thing that protects you are your security questions and the content you post. You should be very careful about which security questions you choose. They are about you so anyone who knows you really well would have the answers. So I wouldn’t answer those questions truthfully if I were you. Think of answering them like you were inputting a password.

Also be careful about about the kind of “games” you play online. It’s social engineering 101. Some include you choosing your birth day, month, what you’re currently wearing and your location to generate a funny/wacky statement. I’m sure 3 out of 5 people reading this have indulged in such a game. If you really think about it what’s the essence of such games if not to extract information. So yes a strong password will protect you from hackers but being mindful of the activities you partake in while online is also crucial.

Image Source: Ann Foster on Pinterest

As always like every myth or fable there is always a lesson to be learnt and I hope you’ve learnt something from reading so you’ll do better to heed any important counsel and act on them.

That concludes the first part of our series about cyber security myths.

References

https://securityboulevard.com/2019/11/does-google-read-your-email/amp/

https://www.asgct.com/cyber-security-myths-5-common-myths-and-why-they-arent-true/

https://www.wired.com/video/watch/expert-debunks-cybersecurity-myths

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