Technology Analysis

Cyber hygiene requires critical thinking and protection of privacy

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With more reliance on digital technology, cyber hygiene has never been more important (Image via Pexels)

As the world continues to go digital, there are more threats we need to take precautions against. Paul Budde reports.

AT HIS farewell speech last week, outgoing Telstra CEO Andy Penn mentioned that the cyber threat has never been as serious as the present. He mentioned the deteriorating geopolitical situation as well as the big shift in the way that criminals operate in the cyber domain.

One thing is for sure — in order to enjoy all the positives resulting from the digital economy, we need to be far more vigilant about the barrage of information that we are receiving and/or have access to.

As we are seeing all around us, there are plenty of people, organisations and even governments that are more than eager to (mis)use digital media for their own self-interest and if that includes misinformation, lies, half-truths, scamming, hacking, phishing and so on, they are more than happy to use these tools in advertising, politics, ideologies and conspiracies.

For too long, we have been used to situations where truth was the norm. Sure, all of the above misbehaviours were there as well, but at a significantly lower scale. In general, we were able to trust our politicians, business leaders and the media.

Since social media, this has changed significantly and we now as societies have to learn to be far more critical in our thinking. While social media cause emotional reactions in us, to which we instantly respond and/or indicate that we like it or not, we need to use reason and perhaps pause before we instantly react. Often, we do get an inkling that something might not be true, a gutfeel. If that is the case, pause and check it out.

This brings me to an email I recently received from Dataprot. It claims to help people and organisations learn the ins and outs of another part of cyber hygiene.

It published an interesting guide on how to look up unknown phone numbers, since many of us have ended up in situations where we got calls from numbers that we don’t recognise.

It is providing some interesting tips.

Google any unknown phone number (mobile, fixed, toll-free) before calling them back. Type in all the details you have and use quotation marks to make sure the term you’re looking for is searched as a phrase. If it’s a legitimate business, you’ll get plenty of hits that match your search. If you end up with too many links to 800Notes, who-called.us, WhoCallsMe or similar websites, this could indicate that the phone number belongs to a scammer.

Social networks have millions of active users who share information every day. Try to look up phone numbers on social media sites. Type the phone number into the site’s search bar and see what comes back. Knowing the number might help you trace the owner — provided they haven’t removed it or set their profile to private.

There are also people-search apps and websites (such as TruePeopleSearch). They can provide insight into many more details than just someone’s name and phone number. You can find addresses, relatives, associates and even criminal records. You can also check what info they have on you and if needed, take action to change or delete info.

Many online White Pages directories also can be used to look up reverse telephone. However, searching for the person behind a prepaid cell phone number can be tricky, as prepaid SIM cards can be purchased anywhere without providing any personal information. Due to privacy concerns, some countries, including Australia and the UK, have restricted the reverse phone number lookup.

Looking up international numbers is trickier, but there are websites that offer such services. Insert the number you’re looking for with “+” before the number. Unfortunately, you almost certainly end up with only the country code or the area and not the caller’s name.

Dataprot tested Comfi international reverse phone search. Its lookups provided the country and the network provider, as well as the city or exchange location. SearchYellowDirectory also provided instructions and links on how to look up the number within the particular country’s phone directory.

People worried about their safety and who want to hide their browsing history and protect privacy while searching for people and their phone numbers are advised to find a good VPN service before starting online research. Dataprot also provides some details on such services.

Finally, looking up old phone numbers. Amazingly, Dataprot advises using Ancestry. It’s the largest genealogy company in the world and its website is filled with genealogical, historical records — and indeed, also telephone directories.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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