While the government of the day has recently pushed cyber-security to the fore, it’s nothing new and is likely more ‘politics’ than ‘large-scale attack’. The motivations for anything politicians do rarely prioritise the community above self-interest.
All the same, in the wake of this scare campaign, it is a good time to have a think about your own cyber-security. To quote the PM;
“I’m here today to advise you that, based on advice provided to me by our cyber-experts, Australian organisations are currently being targeted by a sophisticated state-based cyber-actor. This activity is targeting Australian organisations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.”
Does this affect you? Probably not directly. If your medical records are inaccessible, if your tax office dealings are blocked, your bill payments fail, your internet service is offline, you can’t pay for groceries at the supermarket – it’s going to be inconvenient to say the least. But there’s not much you can do about it all.
However, your personal cyber-security is still important. Really important. There is only a small chance that you’re going to be “hacked” (broken into). It’s much more about Identity Theft.
If I have enough information and in particular access to your email account, I can pretty much ‘be’ you. I can take out loans, I can buy expensive items, I can cash in your superannuation, I can retrieve passwords and logins to your online accounts.
You MUST protect your email account. Nobody cares who you write to or what you write about – it’s being able to use your email account to pretend to be you that matters. Your email account is often a weak link in the chain.
Can you make it the strongest link? Absolutely. A good password is a great start, of course (no “123456” here!) but there’s a huge improvement that is quite easy to make. It’s called “Two factor authentication” or 2FA for short.
2FA is about adding a third element to your login;
who you are (eg. email address or UserID)
something you know (eg. password)
something you have (a gadget)
Our local Winchelsea & Anglesea Community Bendigo Bank introduced 2FA for their bank accounts years ago. A small device with a button and a display, each time the button is pressed it shows a 6-digit number. When logging in to do internet banking, I must enter my UserID, my banking password and a 6-digit number. Nobody can get in unless they have that device.
The same thing can be done with email accounts. Instead of a device, though, you use your smartphone with an app to generate the number. So likewise, nobody can login to my email account unless they know my email address, my email password AND get a number off my phone.
Note that the numbers generated change every few seconds. It is almost impossible to guess or predict the number, they are generated using some clever randomising maths.
This means anyone trying to break into my bank or email accounts will fail EVEN IF they know my password and UserID somehow.
Have a think about the online logins that you use which would cause you pain if someone knew your password. Especially your email. Find out if you can enable 2FA, and work through the procedure to make it happen. It is so worth it.
This amazing situation that we find ourselves in has many parallels with the Spanish Flu pandemic back in the early 1900’s. Spreading via worldwide people transportation. Quarantining. Overloaded hospitals. Business and social shutdowns.
This time round, we are far more aware and informed thanks to our communication technologies. (We’re also more misinformed, but more on that later). We are much more able to continue many businesses and services thanks to the internet.
This article covers some ideas that you might find helpful while you are expected to be at home as much as possible.
Nearly everyone has email now – if you don’t, you really should get it or you risk being left out and disadvantaged for many commercial and government services. Free email accounts are available from Google (go to gmail.com) and look for “create account”. Want an intro to email? See link.wwshared.info/introtoemail
Email is great for communication that lets sender and receiver work to their own schedule. You send when convenient, and the recipient reads (and responds) when convenient to them too.
The world is moving to mobile phone numbers. Landlines are locked to a particular place, where mobiles can go anywhere. Either way, be aware you are able to do things with phone calls such as automatically redirect incoming calls over to a different number (someone calls your landline, for example, and that call comes through on your mobile phone). There is a cost for things like redirection, but it can be handy. There’s also voicemail which pretty much every phone services provides – it’s worth finding out how to set it up with your own personal message when you can’t answer. It’s much better for callers to leave you a message rather than have to ring back later.
additionally, there are now services available that can give you sophisticated control over your phone service. For example, my business phone number goes straight to voicemail at weekends, on Public Holidays, and outside business hours. It’s all managed online via a website, and there are all sorts of options – such as auto-forwarding a call to someone else if I don’t answer. See voipline.net.au
If you’re at a loose end, there are a thousand and one things you could learn via the internet. Professional development, work skills, lifestyle interests… it’s all there. All sorts of businesses are even offering free or cheap courses because of Coronavirus. Learn to play guitar, crochet, touch-type, create an effective CV, all about spreadsheets, photo editing, Facebook advertising… the list is endless. Look for reviews and recommendations and be careful with your payment details.
Many businesses are switching their activities to the internet. Examples include exercise, yoga, physiotherapy, cooking, orchestras, schools – anything where a camera can be put where you normally would be. This is called “live-streaming” or just streaming, or a webinar. The camera simply sends out what it sees directly to the web, and you watch it. There’s usually audio too, so you can hear what’s going on. You may be able to communicate back too, through a ‘chat’ window (where you type what you want to say or ask). The requirements at your end vary, but are usually easy enough – click on a link in a webpage or in an email, and then just follow instructions.
A big thing now is to continue trying to do activities online instead of face-to-face. Videoconferencing aims to simulate a face-to-face meeting – each person has their own camera and microphone, so everyone can see and hear everyone else. Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as an actual meeting, but it is great to be able to see who you are talking to.
It will be interesting to see if our new-fangled NBN will cope with thousands of simultaneous 2-way video streams all of a sudden. It should do, but there’s theory and there’s reality…
However, assuming the internet infrastructure can cope, videoconferencing is effective. There can multiple participants, and you can be at home or in your office with the other people being wherever they need to be. There’s often a bit of settling-in required (“can you heard me?” and “can you see me?”) but once it’s in place it’s good. You’ll need a videoconferencing service provider – Zoom.com is the big player, but there’s also Facetime (if everyone is using an Apple device) or Google Hangouts (if everyone has a Google account). You can use Facebook’s Messenger app to video-chat too.
Delivery services may be reduced or impacted, but hopefully will continue to operate well enough. You can buy a great deal of stuff online, saving you having to mingle with people in shops.
Groceries are a bit limited but will probably get back to normal soon. Our local IGA will make local deliveries, Coles & Woolworths are ramping up home delivery. Aside from groceries, many businesses are making their products available for online purchase.
Now be a bit careful here. Scammers are likewise ramping up. So be sure you are on the website you think you are, try to go straight to a website rather than click on links (eg. type in “ebay.com.au” up there in the white bar right at the top of your screen). Only make payment if you are confident that it’s a genuine business and genuine product/service.
Aside from avoiding being ripped off, online shopping is a huge convenience by getting almost anything dropped at your door. There will be a lot of people turning to online shopping, so leave plenty of time for deliveries
If you haven’t already got a subscription to an online video service, perhaps now is the time. Most TVs from the last couple of years have built-in capability to show video from the likes of Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and/or Disney. You pay a modest monthly fee ($10-20) and you can pick from hundreds of movies and series, to watch whenever you like. If your TV isn’t up to it, you can buy a small box such as AppleTV or Fetch (the online video service is not included though). Plug the box into your TV, subscribe to the video service, and you’ve got hundreds of hours of entertainment lined up.
And finally. Social media is probably more important when shut inside than ever before. Connecting with other people is incredibly important for mental health. Facebook is the biggie in this space, and while they’re very clever at manipulating what you see and who you hear from (and deliberately making Facebook addictive), it’s a valuable way to keep in touch with family, friends, colleagues, business groups and more. Watch out for Fake News though – it spreads fast, easily and far. Try to develop a mindset of checking with yourself whether what you read is likely to be right. Facebook includes the Messenger app, which lets you chat with the people you know via keyboard, voice and/or video.
All in all we are in a much better situation when compared to Spanish Flu days. Mind you, we’re almost certainly headed for a global recession – technology is there to help us get through this, so be sure to make the most of it. And don’t forget your community – we’re better together than apart. Help out where you can. Keep in touch. Ask for ideas or suggestions when you’re struggling with something. Human beings are amazing in times of need.