A Fresher Take on Online Security

For many students across the country (including myself), an exciting new chapter of our life is about to begin as we head off to University. Anticipation builds as the day’s countdown to the infamous “freshers’ week”, and we are constantly reminded of the dangers that could arise once at University. But, while still in the safety and comfort of our own home, we could already be exposing ourselves to various risks online without even realising.

After being bombarded with welcome e-mails once my place was confirmed, I was encouraged to join various Facebook groups to get a head start on meeting new friends. The first thing I did (which I’m sure many others also did) after joining these groups was to look at the profiles of other members. I was eager find out what I could about the people I would be studying and living alongside for the next few years.

While for the majority this is merely an innocent act of curiosity, it could be more sinister.

8.3% of women and 6.8% of men had been subject to obsessive behaviour while at University. Trinity College Dublin Student Union’s sexual consent survey

The accessibility and visibility of other people’s lives through social media – which has blossomed with our generation of millennials – could potentially be an enabler for anyone wishing to target a student. Specifically, the use of geo-tags or Snapchat Maps (which updates your location when Snapchat is open on your device) is a cause for concern. It allows people to pinpoint your location at any given time and potentially figure out your exact routine and timetable as well as where you live and spend most of your time.

“Social media…acts as a catalyst for harassment”  – Dr Frank Farnham, consultant forensic psychiatrist at National Stalking Clinic in Enfield

Although it is easy to become drawn in by the excitement of it all, adding your future flat mates on social media sites gives them full access to your personal details, even though you have never met them before. Social media profiles can be used to build an initial judgment of someone, however it may not be a true reflection of all aspects of their character. Unbeknown to you, they could have obsessive tendencies which could expose you to risks such as malicious attacks.

Another area of concern is that many of these “freshers” Facebook groups are public, which allows anyone to join them. In truth, I don’t even know whether all the members (and there are thousands of them) are legitimate students at my University. To avoid potential danger, try to ensure that the Facebook groups are official and have admins who monitor them so that you are receiving all the correct information about the start of your life at University.

Despite these potential risks, it is naïve to believe that social media will not still be a prominent part of our lives. We should seek to find the equilibrium between the visibility of our social media and the level of risk we are exposing ourselves to so that the conflicting aspects are balanced. By highlighting these areas of concern, hopefully we can improve our own safety as well as our peers.

Follow this 3-step guide to ensure that only those you personally approve have access to your Facebook profile and review & update your Privacy settings by visiting the channels’ Privacy & Security Help Centres.

 

~Christy Howard

Tracked to School: How Back to School Photos Can Be Dangerous in the Wrong Hands

For much of the UK, last week marked the end of the Summer Holidays and the start of a brand new school year. With a reported 1.3billion images of children shared by family members on social media each year in the UK, not everyone is aware of the potential risk these images pose to both themselves and their children if they get into the wrong hands (or handsets). So, with parents replacing their mantlepiece with their social media channels to display photos, what are the online risks associated with back to school photos and how can parents mitigate these risks? 

A simple photo of a child ready to leave for school can reveal numerous identifying details that could be used maliciously: 

  • School Name and Location: If a child’s school badge or logo is visible on either their uniform, book bag, or PE bag, anyone who sees the photos can learn where the child attends school. A quick Google search can reveal the exact location and any contact details of the school.  
  • Home Address: Back to school photos are often taken right before leaving for the school run, resulting in many posed in front of the front door with the house number or name visible. Other identifying features such as nearby street signs, cars on the driveway and access points on to the property may also be visible.  
  • Journey to School: Some parents may unknowingly reveal information about the way in which their child travels to school. This may be walking without their parents or a whole family car journey, leaving the (now identifiable) house unattended until at least the start the of the school day.  
  • Child’s Name: Particularly with younger children, their name is often written large and clearly on their school book bag. If a child is approached by a stranger, calling them by name, they may feel a sense of familiarity and safety.  
  • Age: Parents will often caption their back to school photos stating which year group their child is starting. From this, an approximation of the child’s age can also be made.  

Surrey Police have shared the perfect Back to School Photo Guide (below) to ensure you and family are safe and protected whilst still sharing those first day pictures.  

Back to School Photo Guide by Surrey Police

Making sure your online privacy settings are up to date and secure can also help reduce potential vulnerabilities. Download our 3-step guide to make sure only those you choose can see your content on Facebook.