Following a surge of technological innovation starting at the end of the twentieth century, the twenty-first century has brought a major socio-biological evolution that not even Charles Darwin would have dreamed of: the homo sapiens sapiens digitalensis, humans sociologically embedded in digital communication networks, “cyborged” with smartphones in their hands, exporting memories onto disks full of bits and bytes, and living in symbiosis with their digital devices. While they were “just” homo sapiens sapiens, humans risked becoming “just” physical prey. Potential victims to thieves and criminals, bullies and mobsters. But as homo sapiens sapiens digitalensis, they have become digital prey, too. Potential victims to cyberpunks and cybercriminals of all kinds. The dark side of the symbiosis of your life.
Symbiosis, the merger of your physical and digital life. A shift of focus towards your smartphone and laptop. Communicating. Navigating. Informing. Buying and paying. Photographing and recording. Listening to music. Health monitoring and doing sport… There are only a few areas of our personal lives where our smartphones or laptops don’t matter. You live in symbiosis with all the data stored on those digital devices. Your photos, films and TikToks. Your chats, tweets and posts. Your games, loot boxes and game scores. Your folders, files and documents. Your credit cards and bank account information. In short: your digital life. Data that is probably very personal, probably very important, probably very valuable. Data that is potential digital prey for cybercriminals.
And this symbiosis is profound. Just think of those sweaty-palm moments when you can’t find your smartphone in your pocket or bag. When your laptop doesn’t start, even when your press the power button over and over again. When you can’t find that precious document in any of your folders! When your Wi-Fi doesn’t let you in (or, worse, your ISP is down)*. Functionality being a potential digital prey for cyberpunks, too.
This symbiosis is prey. The cybercriminals are on the prowl for your digital life. Obtaining access to your devices. Following the applications, webpages and chats you access. Recording your every keystroke and mouse movement. Spying on your conversations by enabling the built-in microphone. Watching you at home (everywhere!) by switching on the embedded camera. Sifting through all your data, files and folders. Monitoring your activities and habits – when you log in, when you pause, when you sign out. Private activities and work-related ones. Profiling you for their malicious deeds. You are prey.
This symbiosis needs protection. Your digital life needs protection. Your symbiotic devices, smartphone and laptop need protection. As a homo sapiens sapiens digitalens, you should:
- Have a different strong and complex password for each of the computing accounts you use to access your work, personal or financial data, or any other treasured value to you. Mathematical formulas, poems or refrains do well. Don’t reuse those passwords elsewhere. Try to memorise them or use a password vault, but make sure the vault’s master password is extremely strong and complex.
- Employ the ultimate silver bullet of account protection: two-factor authentication. Your bank and many cloud services uses it already.
- Enable auto-update of your operating system and all other applications running on your devices (careful: “When auto-update is not so auto”).
- Permanently run good antivirus software and end-point protection.
- Ensure that your laptop or Macbook is encrypted by Bitlocker and Filevault, respectively. If not, your devices are just an open book in the hands of the malicious evil;
- Only install software from trustworthy sources (yes, this is a difficult one! ─ appearing top of your Google search doesn’t mean anything). Stick to the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores, respectively. And respect copyrights and make sure you own the right licence.
- “STOP ─ THINK ─ DON’T CLICK” when not really sure that the URL you want to browse to is legitimate. The same holds true for QR codes, links in messages, chats and SMS, and attachments in emails.
- Keep a back-up of all your important data. Test those back-ups regularly. And don’t have them permanently connected (as they might get compromised, too). If you work for CERN, CERNBox is your friend.
This symbiosis is your life. It comes with a lot of benefit, and with drawbacks. Following the hints above can make your digital life safer and more secure. You are a homo sapiens sapiens digitalensis: Behave like one. Act like one. Respond like one. Protect like one.
*Just check out the “DownForEveryoneOrJustMe” Mattermost channel and the panic emanating from it…
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