I walked up to Topz on Wednesday afternoon and asked the following question: what if I told you I knew you were in Tripoli in July? Topz grinned and gave me a little teaching on how to make people believe you were at a location that you were not actually at.
This brief conversation occurred after the launch of Safe Online, the Digital Security Guide produced by Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB) with support from OSIWA, for Civil Society, Journalists, Web Developers and Active Citizens. Advances in the digital age and the speedy move to machine learning have increased the urgency for individuals of society, many of whom depend on connected devices for their daily activities, to know about the different issues involved with securing themselves from cyber attacks, having full ownership of their personal data and standing on solid ground on the rights to privacy.
The launch event began with two interesting and educative videos; one on the “magic” that could happen when one’s entire life is online, and another on “How to Prevent Cell Phones from Being Hacked”. Four steps that everyone can take to this regard are:
• Installing an Anti-Virus, to run regular checks on your device, noting stalkers or any signs of being tapped
• Turning on Airplane Mode, when there is absolutely no need to be connected to cellular signals on your phone. One would still have to turn-off Wi-Fi to be totally off network range (apps like Psiphon could help if you must use Wi-Fi)
• Disabling your GPS radio, to keep your phone from activating your location, and
• Shutting down your device completely and removing the battery. This is certainly the most extreme and only absolutely safe measure, though it would come at the cost of being unreachable. You can back your phone device up to a PC if you need to be connected before shutting down.
Key questions arose from the video lessons. A member of the audience observed that a certain anti-virus (of Russian origin) had the ability to use his video cam to spy on him, a strange occurrence which some other persons appeared to have experienced before. Another user wanted to know if the availability of various means of being undetected would not turn out to become advantageous to the activities of kidnappers and other nefarious persons. While acknowledging that the features could enable such questionable users, Emmanuel Okochu, CcHUB’s Data Security Team Lead and moderator of the day’s sessions, reinforced the value of the protection features to the safety of every individual.
A panel session on data privacy, internet security, Nigeria’s Cyber laws and a host of other issues followed. The sofas were occupied by Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Azeenarh Mohammed, Digital Integrity Fellow of the Open Technology Fund and Sophina, a technology researcher who was a key member of the team that produced the Safe Online Guide. According to Sophina, the guide was a creation of the inputs of about 80 experts, including on information security, covering about 60 topics on, among other things, privacy, communication and security.
Key takeaways from the discussions include:
• Being aware that users of devices are the greatest dangers to themselves. In Mr Sesan’s words, “the unconsciousness that surrounds our relationship with data is itself a danger”.
• Streamlining the applications used on the devices most frequently on your person; if there are apps you can use conveniently on a device at a fixed location, like a desktop or stationery laptop, use them less on your mobile devices
• Every user is only as safe as the most unsafe person around him or her.
• The Nigeria Cyber Crime Act, while good intentioned, is deeply flawed on the technicalities and true definitions of many so-called “crimes” being done online. Journalists, bloggers, Civil Society Organisations and all users should be interested in the processes and hearings that lead to the drafting and enactment of ICT legislations in the country.
• It is OK to decline to give detailed personal information requested on every form filled. Also, passwords definitely do not have to be only English words; computers do not reject Ijaw and Kanuri sentences when used as passwords, provided the user can remember them.
Overall, it is incumbent on every user to make adequate provisions for his or her security. Checking one’s privacy settings, reading terms and conditions before clicking OK (it’s ok to say NO!), and using encryption for files saved in cloud storages are necessary tools. Also, Password Mangers were suggested as convenient ways for a user to manage multiple accounts which usually have different passwords. While one or two Password Managers may have been hacked recently, peer-reviewed and audited ones like Keypass x have passed major tests and impressed Hackers.
Everyone with a device, no matter how old, which can make and receive calls or text messages, can be traced between cell towers. Android users can find their travel logs on history.goole.com. A personal hotspot turned on, even on Airplane mode, could be the map for stalkers masking as escorts. These features are built into devices for good purposes but can be taken advantage of by untoward persons. For these reasons and more, CcHUB hopes that its about 200-pages long Safe Online should serve as a veritable guide for everyone who wants to maintain the benefits of being digitally connected while reducing risks and unpleasant incidents to the barest minimum. The guide can be accessed via www.safeonline.ng
Meanwhile, I did not know Topz (real name withheld) was in Tripoli (real location withheld) in July by stalking; I just happened to walk past while we were on the same carrier. But that’s another security matter, isn’t it?
Reporting by Alexander O. Onukwue | Feature image credit: Images.com/Corbis