Be Good Online. Almost Everything On The Internet Is Traceable… …And The Internet Has A Good Memory

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


As we all know, the power of technology has created convenience and connectivity never known before. Used for good, technology is an awesome and beautiful thing. Used carelessly or for malicious purposes, technology is a terrible beast that cannot be tamed. To keep technology working for your own benefit, you must accept that everything you put into the world-wide web – every comment you make on social media, every photo you post, every review you offer, really, just about anything you do online — is permanent. That’s right, nothing, and I mean nothing, is private.

So, repeat after me, ‘The Internet is FOREVER.’ I want you to remember these four words each time you engage on social media, email or anywhere on the Internet. Let these words guide all your online actions. If you must, tape this message onto your phone and on every computer in the house. I’m serious. Why? Because this reminder can save you from embarrassment, conflict and a whole lot worse. Let me show you how…

CONTEXT — One of the biggest tensions within online communications is that the meanings and implications of what you say online is very different from what can be more fully understood in a real conversation. A face-to-face dialogue offers clues where we can infer how we are being understood or get greater insight into what someone else is saying. Multi-dimensional signals, from visual cues like facial expressions or body language, to auditory cues like tone and level of voice, provide real-time clues that inform how we should behave and respond. By comparison, our conversations online are one-dimensional. You cannot reliably infer context in the digital world.  This means that what you say in anger or annoyance or how you react to provocation can be easily misunderstood.

MAGNIFICATION — Online communications are amplified. They are easily seen by lots of people who don’t have any perspective as to who you are personally or as to what made you upset. No doubt, the trail of what you say and do online can and will leave strong impression about you – but perhaps not the one you intended.

FACEBOOK — Pretty much every person on the planet Earth, OK, getting more specific, about 1.86 billion Facebook users, can see every comment you make, what you like and link to and your personal photos if you don’t have any privacy settings on Facebook. But even if you are on top of privacy settings, shares and screen shots can magnify what you say and do beyond your intended audience. Plus, if you have been generous in how you define a Facebook friend, you may not know every friend’s political point of view, affiliation, relations or workplace. You cannot predict how they will interpret what you say or what they will do with that information. Take heed, what you say on Facebook can have unintended and lasting consequences.

TEXT MESSAGES — Even if you delete a text conversation, it’s entirely traceable. Stored by your phone provider, police and legal proceedings can easily unearth every text you have ever sent.

EMAIL — If you have ever sent an email in anger or frustration and then, faced with regret, deleted it, you have done nothing to end the cycle of online communications. Simply put, once an email is unleashed with the unmitigated power of the send button, it is permanently etched into the everlasting memory of the digital world. The person who received the email, the people they forwarded it to, office servers that make nightly automatic back-ups, and yes, here too, police and subpoena procedures can access every email you have ever sent.

In the digital world, your words can be taken out of context. Your anger can become a defining characteristic; your actions can implicate you; and your digital reputation can shape the opportunities you gain access to. Our illusion of privacy, that private account settings and access controls will protect us, is misinformed. The reality is that anyone within our social or professional circles can take a screenshot of a private post to share as a digital image file or make a copy of a confidential document.

Be good out there, the Internet is listening.

Must. Have. Wi-Fi. Must. Have. Wi-Fi.

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


When it comes to Wi-Fi access, kids can make it seem an awful lot like a life or death issue. They sound like weary characters in a movie who have been crossing the dessert for days, exhausted, parched and only asking for one thing to survive…water, um, no – Wi-Fi.

For today’s youth, Wi-Fi is life and access to it has become such a necessity that an Internet meme added a Wi-Fi layer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

But children are not alone in their reliance for pervasive Wi-Fi access, are they? Whether for work or recreation, we all need Wi-Fi and we need it now!

Our reliance on Wi-Fi was created because data access and usage charges for mobile devices via traditional cell phone providers was expensive. Only recently have many carriers begun offering unlimited data plans (even if they come with speed throttling after a specific amount of data is used, usually impacting only those that stream media such as movies on a daily basis).

Like individuals and families, businesses have the same monetary constraints associated with Wi-Fi access. The result is that we have all become accustomed to thoughtlessly gaining access to Wi-Fi in coffee shops, airports, stores, and other public locations – without hesitation and without consideration of security.

Criminals have long-recognized this as an opportunity and have not wasted any time in using our reliance on Wi-Fi for both our personal and business use to their advantage, exploiting the weaknesses inherent in wireless technologies and gaining access to our most valuable assets – our information.

It is trivial task for anyone, with proper the motivation, to learn how to setup a fake access point with a webpage that looks just like the hotspot you “think” you are connecting to. No doubt, you can recall the steps you take to gain access at a Wi-Fi hotspot…you either enter an email address or simply click an acknowledgement of terms of use. Once you are connected to the “wrong” Wi-Fi network (you wouldn’t know that, by the way), everything you send and receive can be intercepted. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other mischievous attacks that focus on Wi-Fi environments that we will not be covering here.

To be safe from this and other types of attacks, here are some actions you can take to protect your personal information and your company’s sensitive data when you are using a public Wi-Fi service.

  • Only connect to the official hotspot that is being offered in your location. Ask for the Wi-Fi network name so you know what the right one is.
  • Don’t connect to other networks that are available and open for use.
  • Once connected, launch a virtual private network (VPN) client or app. Using a VPN will help protect the data you are sending and receiving while connected. An example of a free VPN app for mobile devices (Android and iOS) is Opera VPN. For computers, Opera offers a free browser you can download with their VPN built into it (for both Windows and Mac).
  • Move off the public Wi-Fi and use your device or mobile data plan (unlimited plans keep getting cheaper and cheaper as the cell phone carriers battle for customers).
  • If you don’t use VPN, it is best to refrain from doing mobile banking, investing, or other important transactions via Wi-Fi.
  • Make sure you are running some type of anti-virus software on your computers (yes, Macs can get viruses too). Avast is one free option that runs on both operating systems if you are not already running similar software.
  • Remember that reminder you received to update your software on your computer and device? Make sure you install all those updates before connecting to public Wi-Fi.

So the next time you feel the insatiable desire to connect and feel like the free Wi-Fi you have found is like a mirage of cool, refreshing water after a walkabout on the dessert, stop, think and remember these important guidelines to keeping Wi-Fi safe.



Keeping kids safe when connected

Today’s children are growing up connected, which brings both benefits and risks. What can you do to help your children stay safe?


  • Conduct: Lack of physical presence can create a powerful sense of anonymity
  • Contact: Lack of physical presence causes kids to easily trust others on the other end
  • Content: Children can post too much or over-share information without realizing dangers of identity theft or malware

Staying Safe

  • At Home: Educate about online behavior and monitor online activity
  • Outside the Home: Emphasize the same etiquette when online outside the home
  • Online Etiquette: Teach kids that their posts could go viral or get publicized, and to evaluate their posts in this light
  • Use parental controls on browsers and phones to block objectionable or dangerous content
  • Run malware protection software to provide another layer of protection

If A Stranger Asks You

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


If someone you didn’t know approached you on the street and asked you where you lived, would you tell them? Probably not. If they asked you where you banked and for your account number and online banking password, would you consider giving out that information? Very unlikely. Face-to-face and in real time, we tend to be good at protecting what is important to us. We lock our cars, set the house alarm when we leave and stop the mail on vacations.

Somehow, these same questions and intrusions on the screen of our devices can seem less invasive and safe enough to embolden us to share our most valuable assets. I’m not talking about cherished jewelry, a new computer or a family heirloom — the items that you value the very most and have taken steps to insure and protect. Rather, what you have that is worth stealing is less visible yet valuable to you AND others, those with self-serving and malicious intent.

I’m talking about data. Profitable data. Ever get an email that “looked right” from your bank or Internet provider? Ever click on a link in an email without verifying that it’s from a safe source? These days “street smarts” are not enough to keep you safe. You need to apply those same cautious instincts in the virtual world. You need “Cyber Street Smarts” The reality is that your personal data is lucrative source of income to criminals of all kinds — from your account information to your social security number.

If you look at past and current headlines about hacking events that have led to private information being disclosed to others, you will start to see a pattern. In many cases, the sources of the stolen data have not valued their information enough to protect it from misuse. The lesson from these past mistakes is that you need to be thinking about what others value — not just about what you personally value – and protect accordingly.

Today’s IT systems when managed properly, provide a good defense to outside parties wishing to steal your data. So good, in fact, that hackers not only directly attack systems but have also adopted new strategies that compromise individuals to get the data they are after. The latest headlines about the suspected information compromises by Russian hackers that targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is a prime example of the social engineering technique known as Phishing.

A common hacking technique, Phishing, involves a malicious hacker crafting an email, text message, or social media message that is written in such a way that you are compelled to click the link or open a document that is part of the message. The next step typically involves you entering your username and password (also called authentication credentials) to access a bank account, email account, social media account, or any other online service. The temptation to click and open anything has made Phishing the most widely used technique to get people to give up their access credentials for years.

There are a few actions you can take to help ensure you and your family members are not an easy target for the Phishers.

  • Stop reusing passwords. I know this a challenging request based on the many logins necessary every day, each one typically requiring you to authenticate yourself and prove it is you trying to log in by using a username and password. To save you from having to remember hundreds (at last count, I am over 800) of username and password combinations, use a reputable password manager such as Password Safe.
  • Enable strong authentication (also called multi-factor or 2 factor authentication) on ALL accounts that accept it. The multifactor aspect can come in the form of a text message sent to your phone, an email sent to the address you have on file with a service provider, a challenge request from an authenticator app, such as Google Authenticator, a voice call to a phone number on record, or another way to verify that you are actually the one trying to gain access to your account and not someone pretending to be you. For instructions on how to enable strong authentication across multiple services, review the information at the 2FA Tutorials site.
  • Verify the person or organization that sends you an email, text, or social media message with a link or attachment to click ACTUALLY sent it (and it was not forged by someone with malicious intent). You can call them or go directly to the website being used. As an example, if you receive an email from your bank or email provider asking you to reset or verify your password, open a new browser page and type the main service provider site address yourself and then login to see if indeed they need you to take any action.

To protect everything that you have that is worth stealing, fight your basic instinct to click and open anything sent to you. Take a moment to think about the action you are about to take. Should you really click that link? Be aware and stay vigilant.