Protecting personal information online: Guide for youth

In today's digital age, protecting personal information online is crucial, particularly for the youth who are frequent users of the internet and social media platforms. 

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This publication aims to educate young individuals in Ghana about the importance of safeguarding their personal information. The digital landscape in Ghana has seen significant growth over the past decade, with increasing internet penetration and mobile phone usage.

According to recent statistics, a large proportion of Ghana's population, particularly the youth, are active internet users. Social media platforms, online gaming and digital communication tools have become integral parts of their daily lives.

However, this increased online activity also brings about a higher risk of cyber threats, making it essential to focus on protecting personal information.

Understanding importance

What do we mean when we say Personal information? Also known as personally identifiable information (PII), it includes any data that can be used to identify an individual. This may consist of PII (full name, National Identification Number, address, login credentials (usernames, passwords), phone number), financial information (bank account details, credit card numbers), and date of birth.

Consequences

Failing to protect personal information online can lead to several severe consequences, including: Identity theft: Identity theft occurs when cybercriminals obtain and use someone else's personal information, such as names, addresses, Social Security numbers, or financial details, without permission.

This stolen information allows criminals to impersonate individuals, granting them unauthorised access to financial accounts, credit lines and other services. Victims of identity theft may suffer significant financial losses and emotional distress as they work to reclaim their identities and restore their financial health.

It underscores the critical importance of safeguarding personal information to prevent such malicious activities. Reputational damage: Reputational damage occurs when leaked personal information becomes public, potentially tarnishing an individual's reputation. This can affect both personal and professional relationships, leading to a loss of trust and credibility.

For example, private details revealed online might result in social stigma, job loss or difficulties in securing future employment. Protecting personal information is crucial to preventing such harm and maintaining one's good standing in the community and workplace.

Emotional distress: Victims of cyberbullying and identity theft often endure significant emotional distress, manifesting as anxiety, depression and a profound sense of helplessness.

The invasion of privacy and loss of control over personal information can lead to severe psychological impacts, disrupting daily life and overall well-being. These emotional consequences highlight the importance of protecting personal information and providing support for those affected by cybercrimes.

Common Vulnerabilities Exposures (CVEs)

Recent CVEs have highlighted the susceptibility of systems to exploitation. For instance, vulnerabilities in widely used software can be quickly leveraged by cybercriminals to gain unauthorised access to personal data.

For example, a vulnerability in a popular mobile app allowed attackers to access users' personal messages and contact lists. Or a flaw in a social media platform's security settings exposed users' private photos and personal information to the public, most especially to cybercriminals.

 This is what we call Zero-day vulnerabilities, where previously unknown flaws are exploited before developers can issue a patch. 

Best practices

To protect personal information, young individuals should adopt the following best practices: Use passphrases not passwords: Instead of traditional passwords, use passphrases to enhance security.

A passphrase is a sequence of random words or a sentence that is longer and more complex, making it harder for cybercriminals to crack. For example, "SunflowerChair7Purple!" is more secure than a single word with a few numbers and symbols.

Passphrases are easier to remember and type while providing stronger protection against unauthorised access. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enhance account security by enabling Two-Factor Authentication (2FA).

This method requires a second form of verification, such as a text message code or authentication app, in addition to your password/passphrase. By adding this extra layer of protection, 2FA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorised access, even if your password/passphrase is compromised.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi for Sensitive Transactions: Refrain from conducting financial transactions or accessing sensitive information over public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi is often insecure and can be easily exploited by cybercriminals to intercept data.

To protect your personal information, use secure networks or a virtual private network (VPN) when handling sensitive activities online.

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Educating, empowering

Various initiatives in Ghana are dedicated to educating and empowering the youth about cybersecurity and data protection. Programmes like Cyber Ghana go beyond basic awareness by offering comprehensive training sessions and workshops.

These initiatives delve into the intricacies of cybersecurity, providing practical skills and knowledge that young people can apply in their digital lives. Through interactive learning experiences, participants not only understand the importance of online safety but also learn how to identify and mitigate cyber threats effectively.

In addition to formal training, organisations like Child Online Africa play a crucial role in raising awareness among young individuals through dynamic awareness campaigns.

These campaigns utilise various platforms and mediums to reach a wide audience, including social media, community events and educational seminars. By engaging with the youth directly, they create spaces for dialogue and discussion, fostering a culture of responsible digital citizenship.

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More so, these initiatives provide valuable resources and support networks for young people navigating the complexities of the online world. Whether through informative guides, online forums or peer-to-peer mentorship programmes, they ensure that the youth have access to the tools and guidance necessary to protect their personal information effectively.

By empowering young individuals with knowledge, skills and resources, these initiatives play a vital role in shaping a safer and more secure digital future for Ghana's youth.

The writer is the CEO, Abakan Tech Services

Connect With Us : 0242202447 | 0551484843 | 0266361755 | 059 199 7513 |

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