Much like the analog world, the internet is a vast place filled with a variety of people – with a variety of intentions. As beneficial as online communication can be, there are also a plethora of criminals who seek to attack vulnerable users, especially in chat rooms and forums where attackers hide behind pseudonyms. Users frequenting online chat rooms should know how to keep online communication safe while preventing social engineering, phishing, and other attacks.
First, maintain skepticism when interacting with other users online, particularly regarding their identities. On the internet, anyone can pretend to be anyone they want, presenting a particularly potent problem when paired with identity theft. When it’s so easy to impersonate another user, especially by scraping social media, the only reasonable solution is to trust but verify – or not to trust at all.
Second, avoid clicking links shared during online conversations, even those which appear legitimate. Often, attackers will try to trick users into entering personal information or downloading illegitimate software. They may use links which mimic popular sites or try to mask the true destination through a redirect or link shortener like bit.ly; both of these techniques should be carefully watched and avoided. Instead of directly linking websites, ask conversation partners to tell you where they’re located. Top search results are typically screened, ensuring you don’t accidentally visit microsaft.com rather than the real site, microsoft.com.
Third, assume the conversation is permanent, and remain conscious of information shared. Information shared in a chat room may never be deleted from the chat logs, and even if so, other participants are certainly able to screenshot or copy-paste what’s written. Even apps which claim to protect users’ privacy, such as Snapchat, can be logged with free and easy means. Thus, the best approach is only sharing information you’re comfortable being repeated.
Skepticism, though not the most exciting mindset, remains the safest approach for exploring the digital world. Most software is now extensively tested and verifiably secure, meaning the responsibility lies on the user to protect themselves from human-level threats. Chat rooms follow this same principle, whether accessed through IRC, IM, Jabber, or the web browser.
Author: Grey Ruessler, IT User Services