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How to keep yourself safe in a digitally connected world, especially on mobile

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With the news of online scams, malwares, hacks and data breaches the World Wide Web sounds like a very dark place which can just consume you. If you’re think about the rise in proliferation of devices from Smartphones, tablets, internet connected home appliances, voice assistance etc, this has opened us up to even greater risks. While the Govt. has invested heavily on Digital India, the same push has not been seen in promoting Digital Literacy. In a world of augmented reality, where truth is stranger than fiction, the people who are un-informed are more likely to be misinformed. Top it up with the every dormant fear of the unknown, mistrust in the system and Govt. and not enough lower digital literacy rate, the citizens are more likely to fall for propaganda.

With the current debates going in and people spreading all kind of theories and possibilities one can certainly be certain that the SKYNET is taking the world over. While the threat and risk is real, there are some simple tricks and basics which we citizens can share with our fellow citizens who are not digitally savvy.  Sharing handful of easy measures will not only help to reduce the risk but also help them to get educated. Some of the things we can share to make mobile surfing safer:

  • Permissions requested from the apps: In regards to current scenario, this is one of the most relevant handy tip. Whenever you download an app. Before the app can run it will ask for permission on what all it wants to access. Before you press on “accept” option, it’s good to do a sanity check on are these permission relevant and necessary. For eg: why should an app for a flashlight request permission to your camera and microphone? Or why should a photo editing app like to know your location? If you think requested permission are more than what is required, can the app.
  • Which Apps to download: The apps should be downloaded which are created by trusted developers or companies. The reason being is the developers are not only responsible for providing you with the app. But also ensuring that regular patches are provided in the form of updates to lug any loop holes found. Downloading an app with no support can leave your application vulnerable to attack.  Its good analogy would be would you buy a scooter with no servicing centre? Tough despite the media hype, malware on mobile devices is not a significant problem compared to computers (yet!), it’s always best to download apps only from your operating system makers app store and not a third parties.
  • It’s Free!!! : If an app is free it does not mean that we should have it. Judge on is this app really required and why? Is it duplicating a function which is already available on my phone? More apps could mean more drain on battery life, more permission would mean more sharing of your data with their third parties etc. for example: do I need an app for stop-timer when that function is built in my phone? Or do I need another photo-editor on top of my existing one?
  • Keep track of your apps:  Sometimes we get caught up in downloading tons of apps, much like a wiki-hole. You download one, and then another, and another… But, the thing is, updating these apps takes time and a lot of clicking the “Accept” button without actually reading the permissions/privacy-policy changes. You need to stay up-to-date on the apps you use, how they work, and the data they collect and use. Go through your phone, and be sure to get rid of the stuff you no longer use or recognize.
  • Use Settings for location: Many mobiles phone these days allow you to customise your privacy setting specific to applications. For example you might be comfortable in sharing your location with Google maps for navigation purpose but not with what’s app. Settings would often also allow you to customise to use location only when you are running the app (not in the background). This is also a good option to keep control over not necessarily what you want to share but when you want to share.
  • Where I am: This is somewhat similar to the information above however what really needs to be thought is whether sharing my location is really important or worth the risk I want to have? For example turning on location in FB would help you to check in at your favourite location a bit faster, but you can still do the same by manually typing in the location name in search option rather than relying on FB to do it for you. This will also save you from unnecessary promoted posts. Have a thought of it sharing my info worth the little manual effort i’ll have to do? A cost Vs benefit analysis is a good thing to do.
  • Access to contacts: I personally stay away from apps who wants to access my contact list unless it’s a completely trusted app. There is no reason why an app would need to access to your contacts and messages unless you see a real reason behind it.
  • Personal Vs Sensitive Vs Confidential Info: people should know the difference between these three. If your friends posts you a marriage card with your name, address and phone number. That is your personal information traveling via multiple hands with you having no control over it. There is no way or control on how to secure it. Much of this personal info is available via public domain and not much can be done with it apart from data analytics and creating hypothesis. Example of sensitive info would be your bank account numbers, again tough this information should also be in safe hands but many organisations have robust checks and balances to ensure that not financial loss is occurred by you. Confidential info would be CVC codes of your debit card, details of card for online shopping and pin of your cards. This info should never be shared. This gets important as there are multiple digital wallets available and the grievance redressed system is not very strong.
  • Share with care: Do not believe everything you see on social media. This is not as much as a technical risk but an information risk which sows the seed of mistrust. If any info which is shared makes you anxious, its best to seek communications from official channels/handles/pages. Sometimes sharing malicious information can also land you in legal trouble. Many people in rural India still follow the cardinal rule of seeing is believing but are not aware of things like Photoshop etc. Such audience is gullible for propaganda. So before you hit on that fwd. button or share button a good sanity check would not harm anyone.

In today’s world only living off the grid will save you from the web of data sharing. While Data sharing is not always bad it has its own benefits as well and this needs to be shared with others as well.  While the devices are becoming sources of information overloads, we still have the capacity to use our common-sense which would not require technical expertise to keep us safe. Remember to share that it’s their information, they are the master/owner of it and also partly accountable for it, and as the saying goes ‘precaution is better than cure’. Let’s do our bit to educate and contribute towards having more digitally aware citizens.

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