Friday, 20 February 2015

Avoiding the Tarantulas

The Internet is wonderful, an ingenious invention that has grown into something utterly indispensible in a little over a couple of decades. But who would have thought it could end up such a hostile and dangerous place!

It was bad enough a decade ago, as viruses attacked our desktops. Now the problem is orders of magnitude worse as we access the Web from a variety of vulnerable devices via unfamiliar wifi access points.

Every day new vulnerabilities are discovered and patched, but it's a war of attrition and the goodies are losing.

I mentioned a while back that we're involved with assisting in our local community shop and cafe through developing their website and helping with social media etc. The group that manages the shop and cafe, Cwmni Cymunedol Cletwr (of which I'm a Director, by the way) has a wider remit than simply running the shop and cafe - it's a community group that exists to improve life in the community in any way we can. For instance, we're organising a litter pick-up session and we recently established a fuel-buying syndicate that arranges bulk purchases of heating oil (at a discount) - the first order saved £280 for locals.

We're now looking at education, and we decided to run a series of talks aimed at helping people to use the Internet more safely. I presented the first one last night.

Obviously using the Internet will never be 100% safe, but we hope that by giving people a series of tips on best practice, the chances of them being bitten by the tarantulas lurking on the web will be minimised, as will the effects of any such venomous bites!

The talks cover the obvious topics such as making sure anti-virus software is installed and up-to-date, tips on what makes a good password, safe use of public wifi and internet cafes, recognising and avoiding phishing attacks and general online privacy. Some of the guidelines were technical - installing AV software, having backups of important data or using a VPN when on public wifi, but much of it was about basic behaviour - watching out for shoulder-surfing etc, who to trust (no-one!), and not publishing too much personal information.

The talk went very well, but I think I may need to turn down the paranoia level next time - I suspect some of the attendees will never go on-line again!

The importance of such education was highlighted when the first e-mail I opened this morning was from one of my neighbours, who is apparently on holiday in Turkey and has had all her money, tickets and passport stolen, and needs a loan!

This sort of education is essential, but it must be presented in an easy-to-understand way so that normal people (non-techies) can put some of the tips into practice, and make their on-line life a wee bit safer.

The slides and notes from the talk are available on the Technoleg Taliesin website

I would urge any techie to do their bit to help their community by organising similar assistance, either as public talks or simple one-to-one support.

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