While the Internet is a valuable resource for communication, the global network also has its downsides. The same tools that allow you to reach out to anyone anywhere in the world also give that ability to scammers and hackers. Communications across the Internet may fall into the wrong hands, either by design or by accident. Staying aware of the dangers can help keep your communications safe.
One of the biggest dangers of communicating online is the anonymity the Internet offers. While it can be liberating to create a presence online while hiding your real identity, this same ability gives scammers and thieves the ability to masquerade as almost anyone in order to trick their victims. While some of these predators have financial motives, others may hide their identities in order to manipulate people for their own amusement. In 2013, Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o claimed he was involved in an online relationship with a woman who turned out not to exist, resulting in a massive scandal and PR debacle for the star.
One of the greatest advantages of communicating online is the instant nature of the Internet. When you send out an email or an instant message, your recipient can receive it within moments. Unfortunately, this also means that mistaken correspondence or messages sent in the heat of the moment may be impossible to take back. In 2009, the UC San Diego admissions accidentally sent out a congratulatory email to all of their applicants that year instead of just those who earned admission, resulting in an enormous embarrassment for the school and dashing the hopes of thousands of students.
Another thing to remember about the Internet is that it is a public network. Data passes through a myriad of computer nodes when traveling from sender to recipient, and the computers that handle that data may be snooping on it. A third party may be able to intercept any unencrypted communications you send, so encryption software is a must if you conduct sensitive business online. In addition, apps may be collecting data on your activities and sending that information out over the Internet, where marketers can use it for their own purposes. When installed on cell phones with GPS receivers, these apps can build a frighteningly accurate picture of your daily activities, enough to give a third party an unwelcome view into your life.
Email has become an integral part of daily life for many Internet users, and while it is a great communication tool, it is also one of the biggest vectors for malware infections. Malware authors take advantage of the fact that users are trusting of messages that seem to come from coworkers or friends. New malware threats even target mobile devices, allowing hackers to gain access to the invaluable digital data many people carry around in their mobile lifeline. That always-on connection may provide an outsider 24-hour access to your personal data.
- Marketplace: Reddit, Gawker, Trolling, and the Dangers of Online Anonymity
- The Independent: Identity on the Internet: The Pros and Cons of Anonymity
- Der Spiegel: How To Encrypt Emails: Protect Yourself from Online Snoops
- TechRepublic: Prevent Malware From Spreading by Email Links and Attachments
- USA Today: Manti Te'o's "Catfish" Story Is a Common One
- Business Insider: 11 Cringeworthy "Reply All" Email Disasters
- NakedSecurity: Fitness Apps Are a "Privacy Nightmare," Shedding Personal Data to the Highest Bidder
- ThreatPost: Fireeye Uncovers Android Remote Access Malware