Sarahah, honesty and making sure your kids aren’t part of the problem

Freedom of speech in written texts? Totally anonymous? No fear of being identified and penalized? Whoa, that’s what GenY was waiting for! And youngsters have been, going for it I mean, by the drove!

If you are still wondering what I am talking about, it’s the new app Sarahah, that’s got everyone’s attention. The brainchild of a Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, its original purpose was to provide a platform to people to offer honest but anonymous feedback in the workplace without the fear of retribution. Zain soon realized the potential for it in personal use and so opened a new section in the website for personal feedback from friends. This feature became very popular in the Middle East and Africa, which led to its introduction in the western countries as the Sarahah App.

How does it work?

All you have to do is download it and link it to your social media accounts- SnapChat, Facebook or Instagram and share the link you receive with friends or public; and voila, you are ready to tell anyone- anonymously- exactly what you think of them, their work, their attitude, their past deeds or whatever it is about them that pleases or irks you.

Quick facts on Sarahah:

  1. It is available for download on PlayStore and iStore
  2. It is anonymous so just about ANYONE can send a message
  3. Spam Alert: Fake sites like Sarahah Spyer and Sarahah exposed are sending spam messages to users to check sender’s name on their sites
  4. There is a minimum age criteria though- the app is for people over 17. But a large number of teens are on it so the age criteria has obviously not played a deterrent.

So now my Facebook page is flooded with sweet comments that people have received via Sarahah (The comments are not visible to others unless users choose to share) and reciprocal outpour of love and guesses on who the sender might be. Sometimes they guess it right, sometimes they do not. What concerns cyber security experts like me (yeah, we like people to use their devices and the net with their eyes open) is that the anonymity may embolden some malicious users to reveal “honest” feelings- and so be abusive, mean, acerbic and untruthful. Or to use the app to insult or demean someone they do not like. How will the receivers handle it then?

What does this mean for parents & kids in India?

According to McAfee’s “Teen Tween Technology 2015” study in India, 43% of the children active on social media claim to have witnessed cruel behaviour on social networks, while 52% of the children indicated that they have bullied people over social media themselves. And this when there was no Sarahah app around! We learn two things from here, children are being bullied and simultaneously children could be playing accomplice to cyberbullying by being the perpetrators or witnesses.

Such apps that allow people to “speak their mind” have the potential to turn into breeding grounds for cyberbullying and according to reports, it has started happening, with some users allegedly receiving hate mails and death threats!

What parents need to understand?

  1. Watch for signals: If a child faces cyberbullying, there could be behavioral changes like depression, drop in academic performance, marked disinterest in everything. Watch out for these signs in your teen. Also, as the McAfee study suggested, kids could be not just be on the receiving end but initiating it also. This is where a good open relationship with kids about cyber etiquettes is critical from an early age.
  2. Better to be safe: Monitoring underage kid’s activities online through parental control app is critical at points in time like these. Until kids gain maturity to identify on their own, guidance from parents is essential just like how you would help cross the street. If you feel uncomfortable or disturbed by any message, its recommended to take screen shots and uninstall the app
  3. Communicate: What goes online stays online and may have future consequences. It’s important to empower children early until they can judge what can harm them. That said we also need to highlight that participating in such acts can have consequences and if seen, should be reported.

It is difficult to predict whether the popularity of the app will gain steam or lose sheen in the coming months. But what we can say for certain is if you and your kids stay aware and updated, you will enjoy your virtual experience.

Stay safe folks!

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Blue Whale Challenge – What You Need To Know And Do!

Indian parents are waking up to this new online threat to their kids: ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ which in extreme steps leads children to commit suicide. Fingers are flying fast on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter sharing ‘facts’ about the challenge, tips about mentoring kids, and opinions of experts that are adding to the confusion.

What is the Blue Whale Challenge?” “Is it a game or an app?” “Where is it available?” “How can I know if my child is playing it?” These and other similar questions are now making the rounds, understandably, as perturbed parents are trying their best to get a grip on the issue.

The facts first:

Alternate names: A Blue Whale/ A Quiet House/ A Silent House/ A Sea of Whales/ Wake Me Up at 4:20 am.

The background: The Blue Whale Challenge was developed by a Russian who is currently behind bars. The game had an app but now it has been removed. HOWEVER, if anyone has backed up data and saved the app, it may still be there on their devices. It may also be shared in unregulated groups.

The game: The game consists of a series of dares, and every time the player completes a challenge, a new one is assigned to him/her. This happens over a period of 50 days (According to some reports, this includes carving a Blue Whale on the hand). The last one is supposed to be one that is potentially life-threatening. Not only that, the participant has to livestream or share the suicide on Facebook.

The modus operandi: How does the moderator get the participants to accept and complete challenges? Simply by goading them on; shaming them or belittling them if they show hesitation. They already have the phone numbers and email addresses of the participants, so it’s easy for the moderator to contact the participants. The participants are also threatened not to keep records of any mails or messages or else their family member’s personal information would be hacked and made public.

Origin:  There are contradictory reports about existence of an app and now it’s been removed from online stores. Social media and forums are recognized means which have helped proliferate the same.

What can parents do?

This is not a case of malware or virus attacks. It is more related to human psychology and banks on the child’s naiveté, lack of self-esteem and acceptance to a group. Such games have existed and continue to exist and bans won’t prevent their creation. Just like there are fun challenges like the ice bucket challenge and the pink whale challenge, there are also potentially harmful ones that include taking selfies in front of running trains and other dangerous acts. Children by nature are adventurous and dares, no matter how small or big, could satisfy this need for excitement.

  1. Open Conversation: Like in the real world where you guide your child, likewise your child needs guidance in the online world too which can only be given by you until they attain maturity. Have regular and informal conversation so they share without the fear of being reprimanded. Encourage questions, address their curiosity and guide them in a friendly manner rather than leaving up to them to figure things on their own Also, its recommended to impart knowledge to break free from peer pressure and not be negative online. A strong, confident child will be able to make better decisions and this is the skill as parents you can teach your children.

 

  1. Stanger Danger: According to McAfee’s ‘Connected Family’ study in 2017, 49% of Indian parents are concerned about their child potentially interacting with a social predator or cybercriminal online. Education and open conversations within families are critical as kids are curious and give trust easily. Highlight incidents about how strangers try to earn trust falsely for their own agenda which can extend from cybercrime to physical theft when you are not home. Insist that they should avoid entering into any form of communication, sharing or confiding with strangers including calling, emailing, texting or meeting people they don’t know well in person.

 

  1. Balance: Set daily internet time when they can surf online and do school work. Also, make the rule -Absolutely NO devices go to bed with your child. If you notice your child is online more often than usual you should investigate.

 

  1. Monitor: Even if you are not a tech savvy person, there is nothing like a parent’s concern to keep children on the right path. It’s suggested you use the parental control features available in reputed security software which makes it easy and simple to help keep your children safe online.

 

  1. Do your part: Discuss with your child about how to identify such online dangers and report it if they encounter any. It’s our duty to keep the ecosystem safe for everyone as we would expect from our neighbor.

Monitoring your child’s online experience until they get a sense of judgement is something I have always advocated for, and is now more important than ever. Do your part and help make the internet a safer place for everyone.

 

World Wide Web – The journey from 1990

This year on my birthday, family and friends sent me gifts and flowers bought from online stores. Even my cake was ordered online! I wondered, “How would things have been without the World Wide Web?”

August 1, 2017 was the 26th birthday of the World Wide Web and this is the right opportunity to thank its creators, and this service for all that it has made possible.

The World Wide Web (we know it better as the www that precedes all web addresses) was the brain-child of Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, and was born in August 1990 at CERN in Switzerland. Very soon this service became the magic portal that gave access to infinite resources online – something our previous generation would have thought possible only in science fiction.

A year later in August 1991, the first website was published, and today there are more than one billion websites in existence!

How many times do you use the browser service each day? Take a guess-10, 20, 30? Almost everything you do online requires you to use a browser – whether it’s using Google for information, watching movies and shows online, checking social media accounts, making online transactions or even communicating through WhatsApp. Well, that makes it how many times??

Cyber criminals have created bugs that can attack systems, crash devices, steal files, and disrupt organizational functioning and services. As responsible netizens, we should therefore be aware of the potential cyber threats and use a reputed security software to keep us and our family safe online.

The theory of a computer bug or virus was introduced long before the first virus was developed. In 1983, Fred Cohen demonstrated a program that could replicate itself multiple times. The first worm to create global disruption was the ‘Morris Worm’. Developed by Robert Morris, it leveraged the vulnerabilities in the UNIX system and replicated itself regularly, massively slowing down computers. This attack has the dubious distinction of being the first global multi-platform attack and raised awareness about the need for cybersecurity.

The exponential growth of internet users, businesses and services online has given ample opportunities for cyber criminals to launch targeted attacks, to fulfil various ends. Modern hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated using social engineering and phishing to target gullible users.

Some notable global cyber-attacks include:

  • 2004: Netsky and Sasser worm attacks
  • 2006: Operation Shady Rat
  • 2008: Project Chanology
  • 2009: Yahoo attack (Operation Aurora)
  • 2010: Stuxnet worm
  • 2011: Sony PlayStation Hack
  • 2012: Flame
  • 2013: Spamhaus Project
  • 2017: #Wannacry and #Petya ransomware

Though we use the terms Virus, Worms, Trojan Horses interchangeably, they are in fact not quite the same. While a virus needs a host file to spread from one computer to another; a worm is a self-replicating program that can create copies of itself and send to all on the user’s contact list. A Trojan horse pretends to be a genuine software but actually contains a malicious code.

Being aware is the first step towards cyber safety and what better way to observe World Wide Web day than by being a safe surfer? Here’s how you can ensure your safety while browsing:

  • Use a well-known security software, like McAfee LiveSafe or McAfee Total Protection
  • Always install OS updates, don’t keep it for later
  • Disable Auto-run of attachments in your e-mail program
  • Be very suspicious of .exe files
  • Scan all apps, devices, files and software before use
  • Use McAfee WebAdvisor to identify safe sites to visit

Here’s looking forward to the achievement of the Digital India vision where every citizen will know how to browse safely and lead a secure digital life and encourage their family to do so.

The rise in ransomware attacks has directed global attention towards cyber insurance and we shall be exploring this in our next blog. See you next time!