Ask the Experts

Wary on the Web

I have a friend here at school who is scared of technology. I don’t mean that he’s bad with technology or that he won’t touch it–I mean that he’s literally afraid of it. He knows how to use a computer, but he avoids the internet when he can and refuses to join social networking sites or keep track of anything personal with a computer. He says it’s too easy for other people to get information about you online–when we were talking about this the other day, he pointed to a store we were walking by and said that we could easily find out all about the person who owned it with little more than a Google search. He’s also convinced that even the “private” stuffy is easily accessed by hackers–and easily misused by the company you trust with it. He’s convinced that cloud storage is insecure and that anything saved online is at risk. He’s got me feeling all paranoid! What are the real facts here?

Your friend isn’t alone in being wary of the way the web has affected our privacy and our security. When we use the internet, we leave behind evidence in all different forms, from public social network posts to web browsing data we may not even realize is being collected. And 44 percent of Americans consider the ways in which companies like Facebook store and catalog that data to be “an invasion of privacy.”

But the internet is not a place in which privacy and security are dead. Far from it, say the CASB security experts at Skyhigh. CASB refers to cloud access security brokers, and these specialists work on software that acts as a buffer between users and cloud services–those same cloud services that your friend is concerned about. Security is a priority for these services, because if users can’t trust that their data is safe, they’ll stop using the cloud services.

With that said, though, hacks like the infamous iCloud hack prove that cloud security is tough. As with web security in general, the problem is that security experts have to understand, find, and block every possible means of unauthorized access–while the bad guys need only stumble onto one exploit that works.

So it doesn’t hurt to follow web security best practices and keep potentially compromising materials away from cloud servers and email servers. But what about the things you aren’t really trying to keep secret? Are they easily accessed through search engines?

Well, yes and no. It’s certainly true that your hiring managers (and, perhaps, a few of your dates) will search for you and try to spot your online footprint. But being easy to find isn’t necessarily a given. If your friend was actually able to simply Google the name of the business you passed and quickly find it, then that’s a good thing, say the experts at Bambrick Media. That business’ search engine optimization (SEO) is helping it draw in customers–it wants to be found. If your friend pulled out his smartphone and Googled the store, the store owner would probably consider that a good thing–after all, 72 percent of consumers who perform a local search visit a store within 5 miles of their location. For the rest of us, it would likely take some more diligent searching to turn up personal information in this way. It’s always worth checking in on your online footprint and managing your online presence, but perhaps you shouldn’t feel quite so paranoid as your friend does.

“The Internet, my fickle friend, my two-faced enemy, what would life be like without you? Where else can I be anonymously anyone and yet, have no anonymity at all?” ― Susan Schussler

Suzanne Hite is a former publications editor serving the technology services sector.