How to Protect Ourselves and Our Families Online (Pt. 2): Protection from People
Hello, friends, and welcome to the first entry in our series on protection on the internet! In these posts, I will be highlighting the different avenues of risk associated with our modern, networked age and offering tips on how to protect those in your home from harm. This will not be a perfect solution; the internet is a constantly evolving beast, and no solution will work one hundred percent of the time forever. But the good news is, there are several tools already at your disposal that can help! In this post, I will be focusing on protecting your home against other people who may try to influence your family through social media or forcible access.
Like it or not, social media has become a beating heart of human interaction in our modern age. In 2021, 82 percent of the US population, ages 12 and up, reported as having an active social media account.1 When these sites first started, it was easy to simply say “no social media” to our children and be done with it. However, it becomes more challenging as adulthood approaches; the networking potential of these sites cannot be understated.
The risks of such platforms to the young and inexperienced are many. These accounts are usually defaulted to a “public” setting, which offers up basic location, contact, and other personal information to anyone looking. While most of this info is not immediately exploitable, it allows malicious sorts to filter through potential targets and craft a profile suitable for ensnaring the unsuspecting. Anyone can create an account that uses stock photos and falsified information to pose as someone else. Catfishing, information stealing, and monetary theft are all possible outcomes of interacting with one of these false personas. Engagement typically begins with a friend request or personal message and may appear in the form of an attractive individual or independent business. To combat these attempts, there is a simple solution built into every platform- privacy mode. Regardless of the site, there will be a way to set an account to “private.” This will lock personal information behind a wall that only approved contacts can view. This will not prevent requests from being sent, but it will keep the attacks from being specifically tailored. Beyond this, informing children of the risk and encouraging them to not accept requests from strangers is the only surefire way to prevent these interactions from beginning in the first place. For information on setting up privacy on a specific site, click here.
Another major risk on social media platforms is hacked accounts. Simply put, hacked accounts are trusted people who have lost their password or been successfully duped by a malicious individual and had their accounts taken over. The hacker, posing as the account, will then most often message every contact they have with a link to a site that will either download malware or request a sign-in, stealing the information when given. In this case, it is imperative to never click on a link from a friend unless the target site can be confirmed. In the event of such a link being selected, it is imperative that any account that uses those same credentials (if there was a sign-in request) be changed and a virus scan run (more on that next time).
Beyond the most obvious sites, there are several programs used today that a concerned parent may be unaware of, or at least unfamiliar with. Two of the most used and potentially dangerous of these are Discord and Snapchat. With 140 million active users in 2021, Discord has displaced Facebook as a preferred social media site in US teens.2 It is used by online content creators to interact with their fans and by special interest groups to communicate and organize. It is a platform that does not share personal information by default. On one hand, this helps ensure the privacy of young users. On the other, it means that its users must be more wary of trusting anyone else on the site since it is almost impossible to verify identities. Click here to learn more on the issue.
Snapchat is in a similar vein; a site that does not require personal information but is rife with chances for users to unwillingly interact with strangers and share intimate details about themselves. In 2021, it was reported that 86 percent of US teens use Snapchat at least once a month3 and it falls behind only Instagram in popularity.4 The big gimmick with the platform is the impermanence of content. Any picture or post sent to a friend will be deleted after viewing by default. It’s a fun way to share experiences and stories, but also means that explicit photos and personal information can be shared without consequence of discovery after the fact. Like Discord, there is a lot to unpack with Snapchat. Click here for more on Snapchat.
The other facet of protecting yourself from people is preventing forcible access to a home network. While home hacking is not as prevalent a concern as the news may lead one to believe (only 6.4 percent of home router models could be externally hacked in the first place5, it is still a very real possibility. What are the consequences of a hacked router? Every device on a home network is connected to the router and becomes accessible when exposed. Personal devices passwords are still effective, but there are many home network devices that come with default passwords that can be guessed or brute forced once the router has been taken. Home assistants, security cameras, and smart TVs are just some examples that can provide a hacker with sensitive data. In most cases, the router is exposed either through faulty firmware or an easily guessed default password. Most come with a preloaded admin password, so it is important to change this after the device is installed. There are too many makes and models to be able to work through each one here, but every device should come with instructions on how to run firmware updates and change passwords. If not, look for the model number somewhere on the back or bottom of the device and type it into Google. This should provide an online manual that will have the information.
Alright! That’s a lot of info. We couldn’t cover everything, but these are some of the more common sites and issues I’ve encountered, and I hope there’s something useful for you and your family! Next time, we will be covering “Protection from Programs,” delving into viruses, automated phishing scams, and tracking cookies. Until then, goodbye and happy browsing!
1 Published by Statista Research Department, and Mar 23. “Social Media Usage in U.S.” Statista, 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/.
2 Dean, Brian. “Discord User and Funding Statistics: How Many People Use Discord in 2022?” Backlinko, 22 Mar. 2021, https://backlinko.com/discord-users.
3 Iqbal, Mansoor. “Snapchat Revenue and Usage Statistics (2022).” Business of Apps, 7 Feb. 2022, https://www.businessofapps.com/data/snapchat-statistics/.
4 Swanson, Emily. “Instagram and Snapchat Are Most Popular Social Networks for Teens; Black Teens Are Most Active on Social Media, Messaging Apps - AP-NORC.” AP, 1 July 2020, https://apnorc.org/projects/instagram-and-snapchat-are-most-popular-social-networks-for-teens- black-teens-are-most-active-on-social-media-messaging-apps/#:~:text=75%20percent%20of%20teens%20use,Tumblr%2C%20Twitch%2C%20or%20LinkedIn.
5 Bayley, Dominic. “Research: 1 in 16 Home Routers Can Be Hacked.” PC World, 15 Apr. 2022, https://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/article/690324/research-1-16-home-routers-can-hacked/.
About the Author
Ian Campbell is a tier three IT Technician at TCS and has been in the business for over ten years. He is a Wheaton graduate who enjoys games, hiking, and going to the movies. He lives with his wife and twin daughters in Burke where they visit farmer’s markets and traverse wooded trails.