The Internet — it's everywhere. From our TVs to our phones and even our watches, access to the World Wide Web is literally an arm's length away at any given moment in the 21st century.
While I am not here to knock the merits of that omnipresence, fostering a more connected society and having a vast amount of knowledge at your fingertips, I will say that the Internet is a two-headed beast. As such, you have to take the bad with the good — and there is plenty of bad that comes with online society.
For every family (military, missionary or otherwise) able to communicate half a world away through Skype, there is likely another person catfishing (luring an individual using a fictional persona) someone through some other online messaging service.
Yes, the advent of online shopping has brought about great deals for consumers, but be wary of those that seem too good to be true. You don't want to get looped into backdoor channels and nonsecure sites while bargain hunting. I'll admit that I can often be found trying to track down official NFL jerseys on the cheap — but I remain acutely aware of where they are coming from throughout the process (and have backed away from potential purchases in some instances).
Being careful of where you shop online comes with the territory, especially with the rapid increase of cyber theft. Finding secure, trusted online vendors is more important now than ever — but the risk never goes away.
Recently, my own family were victims in a rash of credit number thefts affecting citizens of Sedgwick, which put me on edge. Then, the weekend after that happened, I was targeted by a phishing scam claiming my Apple account had been locked and I had to resolve the issue through the "resolution center."
Usually I can root out such schemes pretty easily, but the email the scammers sent looked like most official emails I had received from Apple previously— and the link they used took me to an account manager that looked identical to Apple's. However, to unlock my account it was asking for my Social Security number — a major red flag.
Sure enough, after calling Apple they confirmed that my account had not been locked and this was an attempted phishing attack. It thoroughly freaked me out because of how real it looked, and because of how careful I try to be in protecting my information — I don't even like to give out my credit card number over the phone.
Now, both these recent occurrences have me reassessing all my assumed best practices and wondering what else I could be doing to safeguard myself from such attempts in the future.
Once upon a time, it seemed like you had to go deep down the Internet rabbit hole to find the darkest corners of the Web. Not any longer. Now, those darkest corners are in the shallow end of the Internet, permeating heavily-used sites like Facebook (with its two billion-plus users).
Whether it's targeted ads or the fake news that Facebook has had to crack down on following this past election season, it has become much easier to get sucked into a dangerous online environment — though the anonymity afforded with the interface only adds to that. Everywhere I turn now, there seems to be some article popping up on how social media is ruining the current generation.
If this sounds curmudgeonly, that is not my intent. With social media, like the Internet overall, there are numerous pros and cons. There are certainly those who spread negativity no matter the forum (not just online), but social media also gives people from across the region, country or even the world an opportunity to connect over their shared interests — whether a particular sports team, video game, TV show, etc.
Personally, I try to minimize my online footprint (even before the attempted cyber attack), but I still like having the opportunity to see what my friends from college are up to or to participate in the general, collective awe at the pop culture fascinations of the moment — I see you, "Game of Thrones." What I'm driving at is that while the Internet can certainly by a nasty place, it doesn't have to be. Anonymity or not, treat others the way you want to be treated and the World Wide Web may be less of a tangled mess and more of the great unifier it was meant to be.
-Kelly Breckunitch is a general assignment/county reporter for The Kansan. He can be reached at email@example.com.