This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
by Larry Magid
October is both National Bullying Prevention Month and National Cyber Security Awareness Month. These are separate campaigns, and while they may not seem connected, there are some areas where security awareness and bullying prevention go hand in hand.
One such area is making sure that your devices and social media accounts are secure so that no one can log in as you and use your account or device to bully other people.
I’ve seen cases of people getting hold of other people’s phones and sending nasty texts to others or — once on their phone — logging into social media apps to bully people as if they were the phone’s owner. If someone gets your social media credentials, it’s possible for them to impersonate you and wreak all sorts of havoc ranging from saying mean things about others to committing crimes in your name.
This is actually a form of identity theft when someone goes online as if they are you and acts in such a way as to embarrass or harm you and others.
That’s why it’s important to protect your phone with a password, fingerprint or a personal identification number so that no one besides you can use it. Passwords should be strong and unique and should be changed periodically. Here are up-to-date tips for strong, secure passwords and other authentication tools.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you have the ability to erase your phone should it get lost or stolen. Both Apple’s iCloud.com and Google’s Android Device Manager make that easy with iPhones or Android phones but you must first make sure that your phone is set up to be accessed remotely by you if it should turn up missing.
These services also allow you to find your phone’s approximate location and ring it at maximum volume, even if the ringer is turned off.
What you post online can also make you more vulnerable to bullying so — before you post — think about the implications of what you’re saying and how people might respond.
I’m not saying to shy away from anything that might cause others to react. If you want to share your sexual orientation, political views or religious beliefs, that’s fine but, before you post, be aware that some people may react negatively to what you say. Facebook allows you to limit the audience of each post to friends or even a sub-set of friends so consider that and other social networking services’ tools to control who gets access to what you post.
How you respond to bullying can affect your security. Retaliating online, for example, can escalate the situation and encourage those who bully to pile on.
Hacking can be a form of bullying. Although I’m not sure how prevalent this is, I’ve seen reports of people getting into online fights — perhaps within a game or social networking site — and then being hacked as an extension of the hostility.
Another connection between bullying and security is unwanted distribution of nude or sexually explicit photographs. It can happen to anyone, but we’ve heard the stories about celebrities whose accounts were hacked and pictures were stolen. In some cases this can lead to unwanted distribution of images and in others to “sextortion” where someone threatens to distribute your images unless you give them money, sex, more pictures or something else they want from you.
One aspect of computer security is knowing how to block people who are harassing or cyberbullying you. Most social networking sites have tools to block abusers and report abuse and, in most cases, once you block someone, they will no longer be able to contact you and they won’t see what you post. There are links to instructions on blocking text messages and callers at Connectsafely.org/blocking.
As always it’s a good idea to keep your computer software and mobile apps and operating systems up-to-date to be sure you have the latest security fixes and practice other good habits including not falling for “phishing” scams and entering any personal information on sites that you’re not 100 percent sure are legitimate. ConnectSafely.org, has lots of resources on these issues including separate parents’ guides to both cybersecurity and cyberbullying and just published tips on how to protect young people from identity theft.
Another connection between bullying and security is the way we approach prevention. Scare tactics don’t work and exaggerating the problem is dishonest and ineffective. People need honest information about risks and risk management and we need to emphasize that positive behavior really can make a difference in reducing the likelihood or impact of either problem. It’s less about punishing bad behavior and more about encouraging people to practice safe technology, to treat each other kindly and use the available tools to limit their exposure to mean people.