Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Being Safe Online Module
at Henshaws Manchester

Today I attended a new session at the Henshaws Manchester resource centre, called 'Being Safe Online', a module as part of the newly-established TechTalk group that I'm a member of and partake in each month. This was the second time that the session has been delivered through Henshaws and I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to tell you more about some of the topics we covered.

Being online is an amazing experience especially for visually impaired and blind people today, with the accessible technology that is currently available and is still being developed and improved every single day. The dangers of being online are rarely ever discussed when talking about the online experience though, and that is what the session strived to highlight and explore with blind and visually impaired service users. While a lot can be gained by venturing into the digital landscape, there are many negative aspects to be aware of too.

The session began with the group identifying some of the most popular icons of websites that are frequently used on the internet like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, Skype, eBay, Google and Wikipedia - all extremely useful tools in their own right which can unfortunately be abused. The tell-tale symbols of each website were described to the group and we had to name their purpose and functions, such as; communicating, shopping, gaining information and entertainment.

We touched upon some of the most common text-speak abbreviations and what they stand for, and I'm proud to say that I knew the majority of them! There were a few I'd never come across before (particularly paw - parents are watching), so that was interesting for me to learn some of the new lingo that wasn't used back in the days of my chatroom use during the early 2000's.

As a group we suggested some of the things that we may come across online (such as on the aforementioned websites) that could possibly ruin someone's positive experience. Cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, phishing and spamming, trolling, sexting, blackmailing, identity theft, grooming, hacking, malware and viruses, and inappropriate material / attachments were the main dangers that were spotlighted. We then had to match the definitions of each to the correct term in order to gain a better understanding of what they mean and how they can happen to anybody online.

Activities were then explored in smaller groups where situations were provided, either in example e-mails, tweets, chat conversations or Facebook comments, and we had to identify the danger, what the intention was and how it can be avoided (ie: through filtering, blocking, ignoring and / or reporting).

Facebook settings were discussed and the how different levels of privacy setting affect the audience looking at the posts or photos, even in ones where someone else has been tagged, and whether certain bits of information are even needed to be provided on Facebook publicly (like marital status or interested in / looking for - and how these can actually affect the ads on the page thus driving forward a surge of potential hackers, robots and / or trolls as the audience on the page itself). Also be wary of strangers adding you on websites like Facebook or Skype who will have access to your personal information or possibly probe you for it.

Storing passwords and credit card information on shared or public computers was touched upon and highly advised against, and when shopping online using PayPal is a much safer option. The group learned about identifying spammy e-mails with clickable links within them asking for personal details like passwords to be changed or addresses, phone numbers or bank details needing to be updated. Banks will never actually ask for this information via e-mail as there is no need to.

Location services being enabled, either through Google, Facebook and Twitter, was a major concern for the group and it is always best to ensure these are switched off (particularly on a mobile device). Mentioning you are on holiday, or in a different location, publicly on social media to people you do not know or do not trust is also never a good idea!

Towards the end of the session we learned more about ads and popups and how those can be harmful with inappropriate images, especially to minors, and the module was ended on the subject of passwords and how long it takes to crack the varying strengths. The more characters that are used, including uppercase, lowercase and numerical characters, the harder it is for a hacker to crack the code. Using simple, guessable passwords on a multitude of websites can lead straight to the possibility of being hacked, with someone being able to quickly guess the password through information that they can access publicly on your social media accounts (such as birthdate, address or mother's maiden name). This was something that the group really responded to.

It's all about being aware of what people (and the internet) can be capable of and this session was a fantastic introduction to that. Some things are common sense and other things, such as learning about malware, viruses and trojan horses being cleverly disguised within downloadable links or attachments, can be learned.

TechTalk is the newest group at the Henshaws Manchester resource centre, meeting on the first Tuesday of every month, discussing the latest apps, accessible technology and products of interest - as well as sharing general hints and tips

 All levels of ability are welcome and the minutes from each meeting, including useful links to products and services, are shared via e-mail at the end of each session.