The Internet's a Hostile Environment - Let's Look Out for Each Other
Another day, another DOS attack. This afternoon, just after 5pm, my web server began struggling. It was exhibiting really heavy load which resulted in it being unable to display web pages or deal with emails.
Fortunately Bytemark were soon on the case. In total, the server was innactive for around 25 minutes. The cause of the downtime was a DOS or Denial of Service attack. These can occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes internet hackers will attempt to take a site offline where they disagree with the content of the site. Often these attacks are politically or criminally motivated. Other times a DOS attack can be the result of a hacker attempting to gain access to a website - which appears to have been the case today.
The site which was being attacked was built using Wordpress, a platform which now runs around a third of the entire internet. I'm perplexed at its popularity. I've always found it slow and difficult to use, it's cumbersome and awkward. It was not designed as a proper website content management system - it's primarily a blogging platform.
The internet is a hostile place. Hackers persistently attempt to gain access to websites. If they succeed they can cause all kinds of misery for website owners and hosts alike. And in the process they can take offline any number of other websites - as happened today. Miserable.
You may have noticed that almost as quickly as it started, the ongoing saga around data privacy at Facebook has disappeared from the headlines. It seems as though Cambridge Analytica have gone bust in the process - no surprise. But what remains to be seen is exactly how Facebook will change their approach to data security.
I'm not an avid Facebook user. I don't use it personally and I actually deleted my own business page a few weeks ago. The only reason I retain a Facebook account is to allow me access to client Facebook pages which I help manage.
What started as a platform for sharing information between a few college students has grown into a huge amorphous network intent on learning everything possible about its users. Facebook is a hostile environment. It's designed to consume personal data and sell access to its user database to advertisers who can target their campaigns with ever increasing accuracy. Ever feel like you're being followed around the internet? It's not a coincidence.
Google is almost as bad.
Social media continues to make the headlines as we struggle to work out how to respond to technology which seems to promise so much and yet delivers relatively little. Yes, we can keep in touch with friends and family simply and frequently. Yes, we can tune in to particular topics, trends and ideas. Yes, we can keep up to date with global news and events as they happen. We can fill our imagination with all kinds of ideas and inspiration. And we can watch endless video, some of which is incredibly engaging and well made.
But at what cost? Our attention spans are shot. We struggle to sleep. We feel bad about ourselves - our looks, our achievements. Intolerance, anger and hatred breeds distrust and violence.
We've got to learn to be better citizens of the internet and look out for one another. I'm sure we'll never know an internet free from criminal activity, the shady behaviour of large organisations or peer pressure. But we can make life easier and better for ourselves by thinking carefully about how we use the internet and how much we choose to depend on it.
Here are a few ideas I've implemented to help lower my internet-dependence:
Ad Blockers and Secure Browsing
Adverts help pay for the internet. We all know this. Without advertising Google would not exist - at least not in the way it does - and your favourite online blogs, news sites and social networks would struggle to stay afloat.
But there are alternatives to being bombarded by adverts at every turn. Depending on which browser you use you may be able to install an ad blocker - here are some useful links:
I use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine now, and also have the Firefox add-on installed which provided easy to use privacy tools giving me better control over the information I share as I browse the net. Check it out here:
Turn off Targeted Advertising
Did you know you can turn off adverts which track you around the internet? Here are some useful links:
Get Serious About Tackling Your Inbox
This may be just a personal thing for me - but I've found that having a busy inbox makes it difficult to concentrate and organise my time efficiently. I have a daily task on my to-do list which simply states 'Clear inbox'. My aim is that I should have as few emails in my inbox as possible.
To do this I go through my inbox as soon as I get to work each morning. I either act upon emails immediately and then file the message away in a different folder, or I make a note on my 'to-do' list to act upon a request at a suitable time in the future. Either way, I only end up with emails in my inbox which still need to be acted upon and everything else is removed.
I'd really recommend this approach. It's not only time efficient (as I get all my emails tasks out of the way early in the day), but it also helps me plan my day more effectively as I have a full understanding of all that I may need to achieve at any one time. It also means that at any one time, I only have a handful of emails to work through, which is far more achievable than having hundreds of un-read messages to deal with.
Keep Your Passwords Secure and Back Up Your Data
Obvious, but increasingly important. Make sure you keep your passwords secure - try and use a different one for each account and avoid the obvious.
At the same time, keeping your data safely stored is vital - don't leave it to chance. Remember, the internet is hostile. Viruses, ransomewear, hacks and hardware failure are real issues which cotinue to plague law-abiding users around the world.
I'd recommend Backblaze for remote backup - it's really good value and 'just works'.
Be a Good Citizen
Don't share fake news. Don't say mean things. Don't post rubbish. We're all sick of junk mail - and it's no different online.
And one more...
Make Sensible Technology Choices
We're being sold to all the time. Every new device, every little upgrade, every exciting new feature. Don't fall for it! Your technological devices are not going to make you happy.
In a few weeks time Nokia are going to release their new 8110 4G. It's a feature phone with a tactile keyboard and no touch screen. It has a rubbish camera and limited access to apps such as WhatsApp. Perfect! And the best bit? It's got a 4G hotspot - so it can be used to connect other devices to the internet. I'm going to be getting one - with the intention of lowering my phone useage. I'll let you know how I get on!