Thursday, July 7, 2011

Social Media School: Safe Surfing

I recently attended a two-day workshop titled 'Securely Exchanging Information Through Technology' that was offered by EncourageXchange for, like, free. As a blogger I found my technical limitations very early in the game, so any opportunity to learn how this ICT world works is welcome. In that sense this course was great: with a little elbow grease and some reading I can actually embrace the DIY spirit behind the net and get myself sorted out. What I didn't expect was to find out just how fraught with danger the internet is. I am not paranoid by a long shot, but the training did get me thinking...

Just to give a little context: sure, you could say "it's not that bad." Really the basics are so simple that we ignore them all the time- don't bother with pirated or out-of-date software, update and use your antivirus, use secure browsing where possible, have strong passwords and don't use the same one for your million-and-one online accounts just to save memory space in your head. Who actually does that all the time? We have trouble remembering to put on a seatbelt, secure browsing is beyond most of us.

But it's worth at least attempting to master some computing security. I remember waxing lyrical a month ago about how the internet is the last truly free space on the planet where pure thought and ideas and freedom of expression is allowed. In retrospect, that's exactly the kind of moon-brained thing that a comfortably complacent web user would come up with. It turns out that the intertubes are governed, thank you very much, and that it is in the best interest of any netizen to actually inform themselves and take some protective measures. Where the threats might come from are pretty diverse, and might just surprise you.

Beyond that, however, it did make me think a little bit about computing in general. Social media is taking off like a bushfire gone wild, and in the development sector this area is becoming extremely sexy. To confess, I might be working at the intersection of social media and development myself in the near future. All the technological leapfrogging, and uptake and 3G mobiles in every household is fantastic. Trouble is, as users we're not exactly well informed about the security risks of these technologies, especially those that pertain to the privacy of personal information, the nature and frequency of security threats and the gatekeeping that is a part of this social media world.

This worries me as a user. I think it's a challenge for anyone who promotes the use of social media, and certainly a responsibility for anyone who earns a living getting us to use their ICT services. And as life would have it, here I am listening to another presenter right now at Bar Camp tell us that "we plan to make internet use an integral part of Africans' lives..." More to come.


  1. Great post! We would love to hear more about the challenges and success you face by implementing the techniques you learned during the training! Best wishes,
    The EncourageXchange Team

  2. We may worry and be made to worry. We only have to be a little careful. Afterall, be caught offguard is the name of the game in Comp Security. Ironically, remembering to close your cyber doors seems to be the hardest thing. In time we will get used to,as we do for the physical doors....

  3. @Anonymous: Thank you! I'll be in touch soon as things shape up a bit more.

    @Anonymous: ah well, i guess we are complacent by nature. but yeah, with time and a little effort we'll eventually build some good habits.


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