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Tony Allen

Social Networking - A risk or a good thing?

Sun 28 Feb 2010

By Tony Allen

As youngsters, remember how we used to go to youth clubs and later on to pubs and discos to meet people of our own ages? Nowadays, while clubbing is popular as a means of young people gathering together, staying at home communicating over the internet has become an accepted alternative for many of them. Not that that is a bad thing. Indeed the internet has become a pervasive and positive factor in our lives for all sorts of reasons: information, booking tickets and holidays, shopping, banking, comparing prices, emailing, storing and watching video, delivery of TV networks, with many more services coming on-line month by month.

Impacting ............

Look at how the use of uncensored information through Google caused the Chinese to block the system and how the Iranian elections were affected by information from outside the country getting in. Reporters use the internet extensively to show world events, even in once totally closed-off countries, which shows its real power.

individuals ............

As people, and public and private sector enterprises, increasingly do business on the internet, so criminals have increased their focus on infiltration of it. We all are more and more aware of the techniques they use with phishing and spam emails seeking the confidential information that identifies you, and allows you to carry out your internet-based transactions. With this they can pretend to be you, and can access your bank accounts, and purchase things using your credit card details.

and enterprises............

On a company basis, they can get into the firm's business systems, steal secret information, and even bring its operations to a halt. Computer viruses can be introduced to disrupt working systems, and trojans and other malware can be inserted into computer programs to spy on files and pass on details to the perpetrators. Anti-virus software firms are kept busy defeating the tens of thousands of these invented every day, preventing them getting into your computer by setting up firewalls, and finding and removing those that might have inadvertently got in.

So what about young people............?

So what has this got to do with young people enjoying themselves you might say?
Well, partly it's because our youngsters in many ways lead the pack when it comes to using IT. Texting on mobile phones was a young persons thing, and those that used to commute on trains, tubes and buses are eternally grateful to them for doing that instead of having shouted phone conversations much to the annoyance of those around. IT has become their preferred way of communicating with each other.
Blogging............

To begin with, blogs (short for web logs) appeared, where individuals set up their own website addresses, and wrote their own journals on things of interest to themselves and others, accessible to anyone who wanted a look. Typically today, journalists might have a blog which they add to whenever a new news story occurs. For instance Robert Peston's blogs on the BBC website when the financial crisis was developing last year made fascinating reading, and were a good example of how blogs can be used effectively and immediately to inform people seeking that kind of information.

The new IT flavour of the times............

Organisations like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Linkedin and Bebo appeared. These are websites that can be used to set up personal networks of friends, work colleagues, customers, whatever, for communications with each other via message boards for exchanging news, photos, videos, chatter, etc. The younger generations are increasingly becoming hooked in to these social networking sites because they are a great way to keep regular contacts. While using passwords should restrict access as part of the network security, these networks can be infiltrated by outsiders, who may steal someone else's identity, and then send out sensitive and perhaps personal information to unsuspecting individuals, who may respond unwittingly with personal items about themselves.

Risks............

We have all read about boys and girls being groomed by evil people using social networks, so youngsters need to be made fully aware of the risks involved, and advised on what to do, or not do, if a contact becomes suspicious. Also computer companies can provide applications to be used on these sites (e.g. setting up personal calendars accessible to the group concerned), and use of these needs to be carefully assessed for risk as well. Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have parental control procedures to restrict child access to systems. These are not there for fun, and use of them should seriously be considered.

Some people may have access to computers at work, and use them for social networking. While this may be seen as inevitable and even good practice in terms of keeping employees satisfied with their work environment, it can also mean that any lapse of security could mean business systems being broken into by hackers, spammers, unscrupulous competitors, and even hostile states. Through awareness, employer and employee need to eliminate the risk of this happening. Jobs, including your own, could depend upon it.

So............?

While I can only touch on the subject here, it seems to me that the growth of social networking can be very positive for those wanting to keep in regular contact, and will grow rapidly over time. The young lead the way on this. However, the same security risks apply to this virtual socialising world as they do in the physical one. Those using it need to be educated about and vigilant of these risks at all times, making it an enjoyable yet secure place to be actively engaged in.



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