If you don’t consider yourself a streetwise person—someone who can handle yourself in dangerous situations—you’d know better than to walk down a dark alley in a bad part of town. Doing so could be suicide; in a best-case scenario, it would be a terrifying experience.
I consider the internet one of the most dangerous places on the planet. And even though I think of myself as the internet equivalent of a savvy New York City native, the fact that my digital persona is walking around it makes me nervous. The reason I am nervous is that I know the environment and understand the dangers. Many people do not!
I have been working in computers since the late 80’s, and I’ve been using the internet since the very beginning, as part of my job. I have spent the better part of my working life seeing something created by a few obscure computer geeks turn into the criminal underworld’s best resource.
The reason ill-lit city streets are dangerous is because we carry valuables with us—cash, credit cards, ID, smartphones and more. Those assets and information are valuable to us, and to a mugger. The more we move information, finances and personal information to a digital format, the more the same holds true of the internet. The criminals are targeting that information.
Cyber criminals have all the advantages of a mugger in an alleyway (ruthlessness, speed), and more. They have three main things going for them:
- Innovation: They invent new scams, and we don’t know it until we’re under attack.
- Persistence: They chip away at our digital defences in any way that they can.
- Stealth: They use surprise to overwhelm our defences.
So since it’s not practical to avoid the digital world, we have to be streetwise. We have to be slightly to highly paranoid, because we know that the criminals are definitely after any digital information that we possess.
So when you’re using the internet, keep some of the same factors in mind that you would when exploring a new city. Stay observant: If you’re aware of your surroundings, you won’t wander away from the safe zone, following a series of links into a shady neighbourhood. Self-defence: Make sure that your operating system, programs, apps and antivirus software are as up-to-date as possible, so you’re not an easy victim. And fear of strangers: Make sure you don’t trust anyone you don’t know.
After all, if a stranger in an alleyway came up to you and offered you something free, you’d know it was a scam. It’s the same way on the internet. And when it comes to the dangers of free downloads, movies and music, it’s less like a mugging and more like a venereal disease: It might have been pleasurable to get it, but getting rid of it takes more time and trouble than it’s worth.