According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2016, about 87% of US adults use the internet. And according to data collected by Statista, there are nearly 3.5 billion internet users worldwide. If these numbers are indicative of anything, it’s that the internet is an important part of our lives.
Think about it. You can buy pretty much everything you could ever want or need from the internet. You correspond with people in real-time from all around the globe. You run your business without ever having to rent a physical storefront. You can even become a celebrity because of the internet.
Let’s face it: if you’re like most people, you can’t avoid being online. It’s integral to many of the things you do today. It’s even connected to most devices — even your home and cars. But for as much good that comes out of using the internet, it’s hard not to feel like sometimes it’s out to get you.
If you want to play it safe, check out the following list of potential dangers lurking around online.
Hacking and Scams
There are hackers and scammers always looking for an easy way to sneak into your device, website, and bank account. These are just some of the ways they may do it.
- Too Many Passwords: with access to websites, tools, memberships, social media, and other gateway-protected areas of the web, you’re constantly being asked to generate new login credentials. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the patience to create a unique username or password each time — and hackers know this.
- Insecure Wireless Networks: a test from 2011 revealed that 22% of businesses did not use or maintain any sort of security protocols for their wireless network. This problem of insecure network usage continues today, with countless articles and advisories regularly released to help inform people on how to properly secure their personal and professional wireless networks.
- Bring Your Own Device: more commonly known as BYOD, bring-your-own-device policies have become the norm in professional settings — and also a major source of concern for business owners. In a survey from 2014, 24% of IT decision-makers said that improper usage of mobile devices led to security breaches.
- Website Security Breaches (Business Side): you’re well aware that any failure to maintain your website’s security measures (that includes keeping your content management system, plugins, and themes up to date) could result in a security breach. And, not only that, you could lose your site, customer contact information, brand reputation, and more as a result of a severe enough attack.
- Website Security Breaches (Customer Side): your business isn’t the only thing affected by a security breach on your site. If customers have entrusted sensitive information with you, they could be at risk if your site is taken over. There is also the more insidious risk posed by spam links that make their way into the comments section of your website. One click on a bad link and your customers could be in trouble.
- Malware: according to this Panda Security report, almost 28% of all malware attacks ever executed took place in 2015 — the largest amount up to that time. Malware infections can be devastating for companies that collect sensitive and other confidential information from customers.
- Ransomware: a form of malware, ransomware targets computers and other devices that contain valuable files and information. They then hold access to those devices ransom until they get paid. Much like malware, they can be introduced by a number of means, the most common of which is a download from an unknown source.
- Fake Antivirus: there are some hackers that have gotten creative in their attacks. One of the ways they’ve launched an attack is by displaying a fake antivirus update warning sign, tricking people into clicking through and infecting their device in the process.
- Malicious Email: in March of 2016, Kapersky Lab detected nearly 23 million emails with malicious attachments. While many of these email scams get filtered into our Spam inboxes, there are some convincing messages that don’t — and that successfully trick people into downloading malicious files and clicking on infected links.
- Fake Websites: there are currently over a billion websites online. It’s hard to imagine than all one billion of those sites come from a genuine and trustworthy source. As of April 2014, over 42,000 phishing (or fake) websites were discovered.
- Financial Scams: there are a number of ways scammers can steal information from internet users. When it comes to any sort of processing fee scam, however, the goal is to take their money. Scammers use common services like credit card signups, travel offers, lotteries, and make-money-at-home work opportunities to gain the trust of their victims.
- Digital Extortion: there are a number of ways hackers can use digital extortion, most of which target powerful individuals and corporations. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) is one of the more common methods used. Sextortion is another example.
Nineteen Eighty-Four predicted a bleak future where humans are strictly governed and constantly monitored by “Big Brother.” While we don’t necessarily live in that world, there are many forms of hypervigilance and privacy breaches that sometimes feel a little too close to Orwell’s dystopia.
- Social Media Third-Party Apps: with many third-party applications seeking access to your social media, WordPress, and other online profiles, how do you keep tabs on who is a reputable source and who isn’t? And how do you know exactly what they’re doing with your information?
- Terms of Service: any time you receive a lengthy Terms of Service agreement from a website, chances are good that you don’t read it all the way through. As far as you know, you may be willingly sharing your information with a third party or sacrificing your rights to protect yourself later down the road.
- Camera Eavesdropping: this probably isn’t what you want to hear, but camera eavesdropping — from your computers, tablets, and smartphones — does happen. And, when it does, those images captured of you can be used by malware hackers, blackmailers, the government, and even your child’s school.
- Smartphone Hacking: one of the more recent cases of smartphone hackings came along in 2015 when the Samsung Galaxy’s keyboard software gave hackers access to their customers’ phones. The hackers could then send false updates to the phone’s owner and gain access to everything, including apps, emails, texts, and the camera.
- Speaker Hacking: android phones again proved to be a good breeding ground for spying in 2014, this time when it was shown that the phone’s gyroscope speaker could be turned into a microphone. While it may not seem like a big deal at first, think about how many times you’ve shared your credit card information with the local pizza shop.
- Remarketing: this is actually a really well-known and commonly used tactic in marketing. Think about any time you’ve browsed through Amazon, only to find ads for those same exact products on the sidebar of your Facebook page. While it’s a little worrisome that companies can “stalk” you, think about how dangerous these persistent yet subtle marketing efforts may be for people with addiction issues.
- Cookie Fraud: website cookies help companies keep track of you so that your personal settings and preferences are preserved even if you’ve left their site and returned at a later point in time. That being said, cookie fraud is a very real thing and is something that malicious sites can take advantage of even if you visit a trusted source.
- Click Fraud: for anyone in the business of running pay-per-click ads to generate revenue, click fraud is something you should be aware of. It costs advertisers and marketers billions of dollars in revenue every year and is also harmful to the process of collecting viable data.
- Beacon Technology: while beacon technology is not responsible for introducing malicious sources into users’ devices, it is still a marketing tactic that businesses should be wary of. The last thing you want to do is push on your prospective customer so much that they find you annoying and intrusive to the point where they block you altogether.
Defamation and Infringement
For anyone in the business of creating any form of content for the web, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re doing — as well as what everyone else is doing with your work.
- Defamation: if you’re responsible for writing content for the web — regardless of whether you’re a trained journalist or a part-time blogger — it’s important to watch out for defamation. With so many people paying attention to what’s said about them online, you don’t want to give them any reason to be offended and consequently take legal recourse against you.
- Copyright Infringement: the process by which someone’s creative work (including website content) is used by someone else without any right to the work or permission to license it. We’ve created a whole guide on this.
- Image Theft: this is a form of copyright infringement. However, unlike plagiarism and other types of copyright infringement, the means by which images can be stolen, the channels through which they can be obtained, and the manner in which you can protect yourself differ slightly.
- Game Theft: video game theft is another form of copyright infringement. And while the forms of theft and protection are similar to those of other types of digital content, video game copyright law can be difficult to interpret and navigate.
It seems as though most moments of our lives are captured online, whether we want them to be or not.
- Form Collection: social security number, disability status, date of birth, driver’s license ID, mailing address… You’ve shared that information for any new job you’ve applied to or new account you’ve signed up for, and probably didn’t give it a second thought. Think back on what happened in the Ashley Madison website hack, and you may start looking at those intake forms differently.
- Social Oversharing: Kim Kardashian was recently robbed while staying at her apartment in Paris, and many people wondered if it was an inside job. If you take a look at her social media though, you’ll see that it may just have been a case of oversharing. With an overabundance of photos and updates about where she lived and what sort of jewelry she had at home, it wouldn’t be too difficult for people to figure out what, when, or where to steal from her.
- Cyberbullying: bullying doesn’t just exist in the physical world anymore. Cyberbullying and trolling are now very common means by which tormenters can make attacks on their victims — those that they know in real life as well as the unsuspecting.
- Catfishing: with the introduction of the Catfish film and the TV show of the same name, catfishing is a well-known part of our lexicon. A specific type of cyberbullying, catfishing is a way for people to take advantage of the anonymity of the internet and to prey on other individuals.
- Romance Fraud: although catfishing usually has a romantic aspect to it, the motive typically isn’t a monetary one. There are, however, plenty of cases where online dating users have been preyed on by scammers hoping to lure them in emotionally and then take their money.
- Chatbot Swindling: this is another case for why love is hard to find (or believe in) on the internet. It may not be as nefarious a scheme as romance fraud, but it can definitely be harmful to anyone who’s fallen in love with a robot… only to discover that they’re not real.
- Charging Station Hacking: for anyone who’s ever entrusted their phone to someone else’s charging station, you may unknowingly put your phone at risk for hacking. Infected apps disguise themselves as an app you’d otherwise trust (like Facebook or Twitter), and then steal your sensitive information.
- Vehicle Hacking: as vehicles become smarter, there is now a concern that they too may fall victim to hackers. In a test done in 2015, it was found that the digital dashboard in Jeep Cherokees could give hackers access to the vehicle’s steering, transmission, and brakes. In fact, any part of a car that is connected digitally may be at risk.
- Home Automation Hacking: there is definitely cause for concern about cameras at home providing hackers with an intimate glance into the inner workings of our lives. There is also the threat of automated and connected devices (like TVs and appliances) providing hackers with control over home automation systems as well as geographic location.
- Online Storage Hacking: while we haven’t heard much about a celebrity’s photos or videos getting leaked in a while, this is still a concern many people have when it comes to placing personal content in cloud-based storage.
Behavior and Health
Technology and media can have a positive effect on our personal and professional lives. That being said, there are some who would attest to the detrimental effects they have on our health.
- Access to Vices: for those already fighting their personal demons, the internet can only make those vices more attractive since they can be indulged in at any time in private. Shopping addictions, pornography addictions, and illegal activities are just some ways people lose the battle with their vices online.
- Sleep Interruption: unless you work the third shift, you typically associate light with being awake and productive. But with the infiltration of electronic devices into every corner of life — including the bedroom — the blue light from electronics has had a negative impact on sleep.
- Always-on Mental Stimulation: the internet doesn’t sleep, which is why it’s so easy to become so attuned to the always-on nature of the internet. A West Coast-based boss texts right before bedtime. Calendar alerts go off at dinner. We’re always on, always connected, always listening for that next alert and stressed about not reading or responding to it right away.
- Media and Young Minds: adults aren’t the only ones affected by the always-on presence of the internet. Children now need their own set of guidelines for how they should use the internet in order to keep their minds, bodies, and relationships healthy.
- Relationship Weakening: while the internet can make communication easier and faster than in previous decades, some would argue that it has had a weakening effect on interpersonal relationships. If building relationships were difficult for people in the past, the internet has only served to aggravate those feelings of anxiety, isolation, and depression.
- Productivity Busters: it’s difficult to look at the internet as a productivity buster since it has an overwhelmingly positive effect on what can be achieved personally and professionally. That being said, whether it’s a mobile device, computer, smartwatch, or something else, this 24/7 connectivity can be a major drain on productivity, too. How many times have you checked Facebook today?
- Decreased Attention Span: as internet use grows, more digital devices adopted, and everything becomes faster and better and more efficient, the average human attention span (and patience) decreases.
- Mistrust and Paranoia: the internet captures a record of everything we’ve ever said, everything we’ve ever done, and everywhere we’ve ever gone online. This can lead to a lot of distrust, paranoia, and compromised relationships.
- Lack of Credibility: for students, professionals, researchers, and writers, credibility of sources is essential to the work they do. But with websites so easy to set up and anyone able to write about whatever they want, it can sometimes be difficult to find the facts when digging through the rest.
- Compromised Immunity: according to a study done by Swansea University, people who use the internet often are 30% more likely to get sick than those who don’t. The theory is that internet use leads to elevated cortisol stress levels, which in turn weakens immune systems.
- Smartphone Addiction: many people joke about being addicted to their smartphone, but this is an actual problem that people deal with day in and day out (whether they know it or not). In fact, about 20% of people claim that they have to check their phone at least once every hour.
- Bodily Harm: your susceptibility to illness isn’t the only thing that may be compromised by overuse of the internet. Some people have experienced issues with nerve damage in the back and neck as well as “text claw” (similar to carpal tunnel syndrome).
- Accidents: when the Pokémon Go craze was at its peak this past summer, reports came out regularly about people getting physically injured while walking around (and driving) while playing the game. While these types of injuries aren’t as common for the everyday internet user, it is still a possibility especially if you’re texting while driving, reading an article while walking, etc.
- Vision Problems: according to some opticians, the blue-violet light emitted from digital devices can lead to headaches, in the short-term, and eventually to macular degeneration, after extended use in the long-term.
- No More Normal: it’s funny to think about the differences between “our” generation and the up-and-comers who won’t know a world without the internet. In that same respect, it’s also nerve-racking to think about a generation that won’t know what it’s like to do things without instant gratification or intuition, like drive without Google Maps or contact a relative that lives across the country.
Navigating the Dangers of the Internet
With dangers lurking around every corner, using the internet can often feel like you went full glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet. You’re excited to go. You’ve got a plan in place to ensure you pace yourself, hit up all the good stuff, and get your money’s worth. Then you wake up hours later wondering what the heck happened. Is this a food coma? Did you get food poisoning? Where did everyone go?
Whether you’re using the internet for personal or professional reasons, it’s important to be careful when you’re in there. Stay alert for warning signs. Keep your computer, browser, personal information, and activity safe. And don’t overindulge. You never know when that awesome-looking website, email link, or WordPress plugin is hiding a vulnerability or virus you won’t be able to recover from.
That being said, let’s focus on the positives. Yes, the internet can be a dangerous place, but it doesn’t have to be. And not every case of “danger” will be as bad as the most devastating viruses. You’ve just got to know where the dangers are and be smart about how you navigate around them.