Digital Dangers

techknowDigital Dangersby John Dunker, South Fulton, TN

For all the good digital devices afford us, there is a down side. What are the dangers we face in the digital world? Threats come in several shapes and forms. Safe user habits and understanding the dangers will help avoid hazardous pitfalls.

Malware is a most prevalent danger using the Internet. Malware is a general term used to refer to a variety of hostile or intrusive software programs. Each type has a unique threat to impose. They can install on systems when you visit infected websites, click links in emails or social media sites, or open unknown email attachments.

  • Viruses replicate themselves and insert copies into other computer programs, data files, or the boot sector of the hard drive. Viruses corrupt or modify files making them unusable.
  • Trojan horses, unlike viruses, do not replicate themselves but can be just as destructive. The most sinister type of Trojan horse is one claiming to rid a computer of viruses and instead introduces viruses into the computer. They also can allow other malware to enter the computer. Around 70% of all malware infections are Trojan horses.
  • Worms are stand-alone programs. They replicate themselves in order to spread to other computers over a network. Unlike a virus, it does not need to attach itself to an existing program. Worms may contain a “payload” which is a code designed to do more than spread the worm. The payload might delete files, encrypt files for a ransomware attack, or install spyware to steal data.
  • Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing data. This type of malware forces victims to pay ransom through online payments in order to grant access to their encrypted data.
  • Spyware is software that aims to gather information about a person or organization without their knowledge. It could send such information to another entity automatically. It might be designed to monitor and spy on a user’s activities. Spyware can also hack into a computer asserting outside control over the infected system.

Protect yourself from malware. Have security software installed on your system and keep it updated. Don’t click on unknown links in emails or social media websites unless you’re absolutely sure they are safe.

Identity Theft is another danger in the digital world. Everyone gets Phishing emails asking for personal information. Most are easy to spot. You should never respond or click on any clicks they contain. I recommend you never email personal information to anyone. Use only secured websites for transmitting personal info to trusted businesses. You should also be careful when using public WiFi connections. Most are unsecured and could allow others to steal your ID or data

Texting has become a routine practice for people. It is done everywhere at any time. The danger of texting and driving is declared over and over, yet people continue to do it. It isn’t just texting that is problematic. The number of distractions smartphones provide are numerous. People talk, update Facebook status, send tweets, and perform web searches. Even video chatting occurs while behind the wheel.

Research by AT&T found that 70% of smartphone users are on their phones while driving. You are 23% more likely to be in an accident using a smartphone while driving. Texting and driving caused 1.3 million crashes in a year’s time. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated!

Texting while walking has become a problem. Distracted walking, tripping, falling, and stepping into oncoming traffic incidents are on the increase. Utah Valley University even built a “texting lane” on campus to help keep students from bumping into each other.

Exploitation of children and youth is on the rise. The Internet and digital technologies have made potential victims more accessible and available to perpetrators who may be anonymous. Children and young people are now able to communicate more easily with people they would otherwise not usually interact with. Certain groups of kids, such as those with learning difficulties and mental health problems, appear to be particularly vulnerable to online harm. As parents or guardians, we need to be vigilant towards who our children are communicating digitally.

Addictions in the digital world are as dangerous as physical ones. For example, online gambling could lead to financial bankruptcy. Pornography ruins lives and relationships. Virtual world gaming can devour time, isolating people from family and friends. Even the hook of constant curiosity with digital devices consumes hours of experimenting.

The digital world is a wonderful thing, but it can be abused and overused. Be smart. Use it wisely. Avoid areas of danger and watch carefully what you post online. Once you put it online it never goes away completely, and it could haunt you in the future.

John Dunker of South Fulton, TN is a retired Navy Master Chief who has worked with computers for over 30 years. He consults with several area businesses and individuals. Contact John at dunkerj@bellsouth.net.