Social media is a central part of modern life, writes Rufus Caldecott, Operations Analyst at the security and intelligence firm, Blackstone Consultancy but there are dangers, he warns
Social media is a central part of modern life. It is used to stay connected with friends, family members and to keep track of current affairs and ‘trending’ incidents. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. We would never advise people to completely reject social media in the twenty-first century. However, a debate must be had about its uses, oversharing and dangers for children to whom it is the norm, and older generations who are adapting and becoming accustomed to it.
Why is oversharing an issue?
It cannot be doubted that people are oversharing information on social media. These could be parents revealing information about their children, the children themselves having compromising photographs of their parents’ house on Instagram or family photos being posted while they are on holiday. It is easily done, particularly for younger people of the Millennial and Generation Z. These generations have been immersed into using platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. With the fundamental ethos of social media being to connect people globally, it is now the norm to share open information about our lives and post pictures and family information to the open world of the internet.
Celebrities and Vloggers
It has also become a trend, particularly amongst celebrities and YouTube ‘Vloggers’, to use platforms such as Instagram and YouTube to show off luxury lifestyles. Whether you post a picture of your Louis Vuitton bag or share a live stream video of your family at a restaurant in Majorca, you are unwittingly making yourself a target to would-be burglars. And an innocent mistake such revealing that you are abroad provides solid intelligence to a burglar that the time is right to strike.
Reports of this occurring are becoming disturbingly frequent. Recently, Forbes magazine wrote about the Miami-based Xandi Garcia crime ring, who stole up to $1.7 million of jewellery. Their modus operandi was to identify targets on Instagram who habitually shared their ‘lavish lifestyle’. According to the Independent, a 2018 study conducted by interiors firm Hillary’s revealed that one out of twelve UK citizens reported a burglary, having shared details of their holiday on social media.
Another issue, particularly pertinent for young children, is the fact that connecting with strangers is so easy. This has opened opportunities for ‘friendships’ to be made online without knowing the individual at the other end, varying from intimate relationships through dating apps to online forums and fan pages. While this has certainly not killed traditional people-to-people relationships, it has arguably become an alternative method of socialising.
However, one could easily fall prey to a ‘catfish’ or someone who constructs an artificial identity on social media. Catfish often seek to form close online bonds or simply earn the trust of their victims, particularly vulnerable people such as naïve children or less savvy members of society. Their motivations vary and are often malicious. They can use their alias to extract compromising information out of a victim that they can then use for crimes such as credit card fraud, blackmail and extortion. Most insidiously, however, the method is often utilised by sexual predators and child abusers. A recent example of this is the Northern-Irish student Alexander McCartney. Through luring and blackmailing children between ten to twelve years old, he was able to obtain 45,000 indecent photographs of his victims. The court case continues.
Spotlight on cybersecurity in Europe
Improving resilience for the increased digitalisation of society is just one of the objectives named in the European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO) manifesto. Calling for a comprehensive European cybersecurity strategy and industrial policy with the support of stronger digital awareness and education is clearly an important objective to the staff of ECSO, no doubt including its Secretary General and Founder, Luigi Rebuffi.
On the subject of Luigi Rebuffi, it is worth noting that he contributed to the setup of ECSO, which today is the private counterpart to the European Commission in implementing the Public-Private Partnership (cPPP) on cybersecurity. Today, ECSO unites several European cybersecurity stakeholders across the European Union Member States, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the countries who are part of the Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research.
Finally, we read on the ECSO’s website more about what they set out to do: “ECSO’s main goal is to develop a competitive European cybersecurity ecosystem, to support the protection of the European Digital Single Market with trusted cybersecurity solutions, and to contribute to the advancement of the European digital autonomy.”
The digital age clearly has its benefits: we can make bank payments on the go and we can log into our emails and online shopping accounts and pay for things with the click of a button. However, where there is ease for the end-user, there is opportunity for the malicious actor. The use of open Wi-Fi networks for private or confidential purposes should be avoided – all network traffic can be hoovered up, allowing a picture to be built up of individuals, their habits, leading to the possibility of identity theft or fraud.
Other issues include the use of smart home devices – while 46% of the UK population own smart home devices, people are becoming more concerned about whether these devices are getting hacked and used to invade privacy in one form or another. It is also telling that former Amazon exec, Robert Frederick recently admitted to the BBC that he turns his ‘Alexa’ device off when discussing private matters. It is now widely suspected that Amazon, Google and Apple will obtain recordings of their customers via purchased smart devices for marketing reasons. What are malicious actors garnering?
These are all things that people should consider. We should all think more carefully about our online footprint, the way we use the internet and the possible implications of it. Clearly, there is going to be information available online about most of us – the key message is managing this and ensuring that we are not compromising ourselves through taking unnecessary risks.
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