Circles of Trust - Who Do You Trust?

Originally titled "Who Do You Trust?", this is the first post of the series - "Circles of Trust."  Written for the non-technical, everyday computer user, "Circles of Trust" is practical advice about keeping your identity and information safe while online.

Who Do You Trust?

Before you begin reflecting inwardly and become upset about your psychological well being, I need to tell you this article is about Internet security and what you should do to protect yourself and your information.  A good way to start our thought process is to ask, "Who is connected to the Internet that we trust?"  I propose that we start by trusting no one, and add people and businesses that we do trust, one at a time, and then only within limits.

Imagine living in a neighborhood where the crime rate is below average, most of your neighbors are nice, they mow their lawn regularly and otherwise keep their homes looking nice.  Occasionally, hoodlums from that nearby, not so nice, neighborhood drive through and vandalize property or even break into a car.  Now imagine that every not so nice neighborhood on the planet is not only nearby, but is really just as close to your house, as the neighbors in your own neighborhood are. If this were really true, a hoodlum from the other side of the world could leave his house and be driving by your driveway within minutes!  If your curtains were open, they could see right into your living room and begin plotting their next move!

Welcome to the Internet!  Every computer in the world, no matter where, that is connected to the Internet can be lurking outside your computer home, trying to see through your computer curtains, within seconds of deciding to try.

In parts of some cities, crime is so rampant that many people cover all of their first floor windows with bars, and install multiple dead bolt locks on all their doors!  They trust no one!  If you knock on their door, they will peep at you through their peep hole, maybe get their gun, ask you through the door to identify yourself, and only when they are satisfied that you are likely not a danger to them, will they crack the door to speak with you.

Common sense would also dictate that we are vigilant in protecting our computer homes!  Just like our real homes, our computer homes shelter many valuables: our identities and reputations, keys to the places we keep our money, our pictures, mementos and other keepsakes. We need to be very careful who we crack the door open for.

So let’s begin by securing our computer homes. In this neighborhood, we will need locks and bars on our doors and windows:  passwords and firewalls. We will also need pest and varmint control:  anti-virus software.  We will need to keep our curtains closed, and watch our backdoor: anti-spyware and anti-malware software. We will need a peep hole in our front door, and we will need to ask those who would want us to trust them, to identify themselves:  encryption and security certificates. And finally, most of all we will need a healthy respect for the dangers of associating with complete strangers:  Learn about phishing scams and con artists!

Just as in real life, on the Internet, no one can ever be completely safe from all danger. But we can’t live our lives if we are always afraid to walk out our door and go to work, or go shopping, or to see friends. We can learn to drive safely, be cautious around strangers, and we can enjoy living despite the risks we have to take every day.

In my next post, I will talk specifically about the practices and products that can help us live our Internet lives safely so we can enjoy all of the benefits that technology can bring to our real lives.