Friday on My Mind – Technology And Our Private Lives

technology-privacy

“Hacker’ image by www.pixabay.com

“Och*, technology – it’s the Deil’s work,” my Scottish Dad said in 1964, when I bought one of the early transistor radios.

Dad died in 1991, so he missed the Internet (and Windows 98, the best version). He also missed WIFI, smart phones, internet banking, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Bluetooth, video and music streaming and that nemesis of 21st century parents −  Facetime. I’m not sure what he’d make of hackers, spammers, viruses, malware, or dealing with glitch-prone software and untimely computer crashes.

As we all should know privacy risks for internet and mobile phone users include data harvesting, web tracking and government spying. Many internet security companies are now advocating the use of a virtual private network (VPN) which encrypts your data and hides your internet address. And, as this article reveals, the Internet of Things poses new cyber threats, as security is often lax or absent in domestic items like smart TVs, fridges and microwaves and other connected devices.

This week I conducted an IT security review after a sudden flood of spam emails jammed up one of our addresses (not this one). She Who Goes By Various Acronyms was extremely pinged off with the 200 dodgy emails that came several nights in succession. They were dressed up to look like emails we’d sent but had been ‘rejected by sender’.

I can’t say our Internet Service Provider (iinet) was overly helpful. They insisted that the email address had not been hacked or compromised. The support team advised me to change my password (duh) and later referred me to a service where you can report ‘new’ spam. That didn’t really help much, so I spent a good few hours doing my own troubleshooting.

As part of a usor emptor security review, I reset my WIFI router to its default settings, and then re-installed it with a complex admin password and a new WIFI password. Tedious, yes, and the tediousness extended to relaying the new WIFI password to every device that shares the same router. As a result, we slowed the spam to a trickle and now it has stopped altogether. (Yay, techy Bob-Ed)

In the early days of starting a WordPress website, my weekly posts were inundated by what is known in blogger world as ‘comment spam’ – most of it from Russia. We slowed the onslaught by installing an effective anti-spam plugin (Akismet) and stopped it by limiting post comments to 14 days.

I began to wonder about spam; who distributes it and why. Do they want to sell you stuff or are they just creating mischief? What they want more than anything is for you to click on the inevitable malware-ridden attachments. Do so at your peril.

I discovered that a sudden flood of spam can (a) bury messages you did need to find and (b) sometimes they are phishing emails. These are emails that purport to be from one of your legitimate service providers. You can usually detect them by the stilted use of English and also by the fake email address

Later, I forwarded the bogus email to iinet support and complained. Since then, I have had other attempts by swindlers to milk credit card details by forging emails. It is beyond me why a large ISP (iinet, now owned by TPG), can’t put a stop to this. I’m told scams like this are commonplace, no matter which ISP you use.

There’s a lot of it about. As you may have read recently, cyber crooks impudently set up a facsimile of the MyGov website, which holds an enormous database of tax, medical and social security detail.

Many of my Facebook friends are currently complaining about nuisance calls, phishing emails, spam or hacking of their ‘Messenger’ app. These scams are becoming so prevalent it behoves us all to put another layer of security in place. Many banks and institutions (including MyGov), use a ‘dongle’ or some form of two-step verification (a time-sensitive pin sent to your mobile).

There is a certain amount of sales-driven hysteria promulgated about the ability of ‘Russian hackers’ to covertly take control of your computer and start delving into your private details. Some swear by online password managers, but I favour an in-house, two-step method. It is tedious but safe, provided you don’t fall into the trap of allowing your web browser to save logins and passwords. Surely you don’t do that?

The anti-virus programme I uninstalled this week was quite good at doing what it is supposed to do, but it kept alerting me to potential threats and PC performance issues. Solving these supposed threats and issues meant upgrading to one or more ‘premium’ programmes.

Hassles aside, when technology works, it can be a joy to all. Last week I compiled a short video to send to my Auntie in the UK who was turning 100. My sister and her daughter sent me a video on Messenger as did my nephew. We recorded our own video greeting on the veranda at home, complete with kookaburras in the background. I called my other sister in New Zealand and recorded her audio message and then edited the clips into a 10-minute video and slideshow. I then uploaded it to YouTube with a privacy setting. My cousin in the UK said it came up great when cast to the big screen TV.

That milestone occasion got me musing about my teenage years (Auntie outlived her sister (my Mum) by 52 years. Technology sure has changed from those days as a rugby-mad teenager in New Zealand. I bought the transistor radio for one purpose; I’d set the alarm (a clock with two bells on top), and get up in the middle of the night to listen to (e.g.) the All Blacks play England at Twickenham.

Dad (left) had no interest in sport, but as a volunteer member of the St John’s Ambulance, he spent many a cold Saturday afternoon on the rugby sidelines, first-aid kit at the ready.

He’d have probably credited the ‘Deil’ with this 2019 example of electronic surveillance of professional athletes. When professional rugby players run out onto the field, a small digital gadget is tucked into a padded pouch on the back of their jumpers. The GPS tracker relays performance information to the coaching team (and, apparently, to rugby commentators). From this wafer-thin tracker they can upload data and analyse the player’s on-field movements. This is how Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr was proclaimed the fastest man in the NRL. He set a top speed of 38.5 kmh chasing a scrum kick down the left touchline in the round five match against the North Queensland Cowboys in April. He’d still get run down by a panther or a tiger, but it’s pretty darned fast.

While the top 10 stats look thoroughly impressive, I doubt the general public will get to hear about the half-fit players slacking off in the 63rd minute.

Fair go, as we say in Australia, as if it isn’t intrusive enough going into the dressing sheds and interviewing sweaty blokes in their underwear.

*general interjection of confirmation, affirmation, and often disapproval (Scots)

 

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