With millions of people being pushed into digital economy, there is urgent need to create awareness, not only among first-time users but also regulars, about safety and security issues in the virtual world. The most important issue for an individual in the virtual, or digital, world is to protect his/her identity (ID). But that is exactly what the new age thieves are looking out for.
One’s presence on the Internet is established through an online ID, like an email ID or Facebook profile or Twitter handle. This is used to share information and also to perform transactions in cyberspace. However, you and I are not alone in this virtual world and there are some dangers similar to the ones in the physical world. The only difference is that when we lose something in the physical world, we can try to retrieve it in some way. But, if you lose any of your virtual IDs, the process to reclaim it is not just tedious; in some cases, it has the potential to wipe out your existence from the web. Identity theft can be used for making fraudulent transactions.
However, Indians are yet to comprehend the huge risks posed by virtual ID. This explains why people have been easily lured to part with their biometrics on the pretence of the Aadhaar, for getting government benefits. So, how does one protect one’s personal ID? The primary responsibility for this lies with oneself. Therefore, in case of your virtual ID theft, most probably, you would be held responsible.
So, how exactly does identity theft take place? It often happens when you fall for phishing, download malware or ransomware, use unsecured Wi-Fi, use an ATM which is compromised (through skimmer), fall for lottery scams and share passwords with others. I have given just a few examples
The problem in virtual ID theft is that you come to know of it only when you have been cheated. This may be monetary (withdrawal of money from ATM or siphoning money from your accounts) or virtual losses (derogatory posts under your name on social media).
Here are some safeguards:
1. Use strong passwords, with at least eight or more characters. Preferred character length is 13. Use a non-dictionary word. Use a mix of upper and lower case characters and add special characters in between.
2. Transact only with companies or websites you know. Avoid clicking on ‘readymade’ links. Type the URL of the website and go to the desired page from there.
3. Many portals sell the information of users. So, do read their click-and-wrap agreements and privacy policies. Several social networking sites actually use or sell information (not personal data) about you to display advertising or other information they believe might be useful to you.
4. Share only the information that is required or mandatory to access or use the website.
5. Avoid providing details of your work life and place of living, while sharing photos. Sharing photos of your near and dear ones should be a strict no.
6. Remember not to post any adverse or negative comment. This is because, once written, this will remain in cyberspace as your history.
7. For digital payments, look out for that extra ‘s’ in the URL, like https. Also, look for the trusted security lock symbol.
8. Remember what your mother may have told you: Don’t talk to strangers!
9. Verify emails and links you may get through them. In case of doubt regarding a link, refer to point 2 above.
10. Regularly update software and the anti-virus of your devices, including Desktop/laptop and mobile.
11. Change the ATM PIN frequently. And do not share it with anyone. That applies to all your passwords.
12. If, In spite of all this, you have been snared, go to the police.