Good Habits for Online Safety

03-08-15

You know how to encrypt your data but don’t use strong passwords to protect your devices and accounts? You never delete your chat history and nude photos on your phone but you’re an expert in anonymizing your IP address?

What’s the point! You are not really safe!

Security online and on smart phones is not a matter of knowing how to use tools but rather of remaining vigilant and adopting sound, everyday habits.

This was one of the main messages of a panel discussion on Mobile apps and how they affect LGBTI communities, according to Nicolas Sera-Leyva, an ICT program manager at Internews.

Mobile dating apps have revolutionized the way LGBTI individuals meet around the world. They allow for fast encounters with people who share the same interests in close-by geographical locations.

But the same interesting features of these apps make users more vulnerable for identification by blackmailers and security officers in the Arab region where one’s homosexuality can put him or her in serious trouble.

It has been widely reported in the region that people are busted because they have been stopped on the street for a routine check and officials – often without any legal ground to do so – looked into their phones and found material that points to their sexuality.

Of course, in such a case having a password to protect your phone will not help. You will most probably be forced to show the content of your phone. So it is wise, for instance, to routinely delete compromising messages and photos on chatting apps. Do it systematically and it will eventually become a habit.

Another useful tip: Don’t leave the icons of dating apps like Grindr and Scruff very obvious on your phone. You can, for instance, hide them inside clusters or folders. Try to have as many clusters as possible that are full with apps, this will make the icon of the apps you are hiding much smaller and harder to detect.

There are also other ways to hide an app from your home screen.

“Safety is also about ensuring a culture of vigilance and awareness across the community,” said Sera-Leyva. This entails creating networks of local trainers who are close to their communities and know about and share their challenges when it comes to online security.

Locals activists are likely to understand, for instance, the specific habits of LGBT individuals when they use dating apps; what info they share and how they share them, where and how they meet etc. They also have experience of the dangers the LGBTI individuals could face with respect to the police or harassers and how best to deal with them.

The old adage goes that: you are as secure as the least secure person in your network.

So for instance, if someone you exchanged photos, numbers and messages with is stopped, authorities might know about you by searching his phone even if you, yourself, are vigilant.

Habits and awareness also extend to the offline world. A decision to meet someone in real life after a chat or several chats on dating apps is a decision to be taken wisely. Of course, bad surprises may always occur but one needs to be cautious.

A recent real story tells much about the unforeseen risks that can happen following online dating. Someone in Lebanon had brought to his place a guy he had met few hours back. The person was drinking juice mixed with drugs and displayed suspicious behavior. He looked as if he was under the effect of drugs. The host ignored the red flags and decided to engage in sexual intercourse with him. After a few minutes, the guest became unconscious and it was impossible to wake him up.

The host panicked and after consulting with friends and activists, he decided that his only option was to call the Red Cross. He knew that if something bad happens to the guest, he would be in trouble.

Luckily for him, the guest eventually woke up at the hospital and the host was not asked any questions about how he knew him by the medical staff.

But the message is, things could have gone terribly wrong.