What is Internet privacy? Are online payments really safe? And what are the cyber risks of new smart devices?
An online course from Newcastle University entitled "Cyber Security: Safety at Home, Online, in Life" highlights the issues we are all facing and helps learners appreciate the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their online activities.
One of the key insights discussed during the course is that there is a trade-off between privacy, security, and user convenience.
The course examines what we can do to limit the data we provide to third parties. It also highlights how to make online payments safely and explores potential security issues from using the Cloud and the Internet of Things.
The free video course from Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science looks at these issues from differing perspectives: from the Internet user, a business’s approach and also a potential attacker’s perspective.
We interviewed the cyber security expert and course leader Dr Steven Riddle and he explained more about his online course and what students will gain from signing up to it.
"We might not be able to 100% protect our privacy online, but there are some things we can do."
Edukatico: Dr Riddle, everyone generates lots of digital data every day. Is it actually possible to really protect one´s privacy online?
Dr Riddle: It's a question of trade-off.
We can try to preserve our privacy by not engaging with social media, doing all our banking and shopping in person, but we lose a lot of convenience by doing so.
By the same token, people enjoy interacting socially online but the price of this interaction is always going to be some loss of privacy. And, of course, we may control what information we share, but it's much harder to control what our friends and contacts share about us.
So, while we might not be able to 100% protect our privacy online there are some things we can do to control the amount of information we share – reviewing security settings in our web browsers and mobile devices to avoid sharing sensitive information such as location, for example.
Edukatico: From your experience, what would be the most important security advice for the average citizen in the digital age?
Dr Riddle: Be healthily suspicious when it comes to unsolicited emails. Ask yourself, why would my bank, or service provider, email me to confirm my username and password? Who has really sent me this email and where does the link they've included really send me to? Is there any way I can independently confirm that the person asking me to transfer money to them is who they say they are?
From there, we can take sensible precautions such as logging in to the bank website directly rather than clicking on a link, and making sure that the website address is correct and has a valid security certificate.
Edukatico: How will new emerging technologies, such as Smart Homes or Face Recognition, impact questions of privacy and security?
Dr Riddle: We look at these questions in the third week of our online course.
Once again, we have to think about trade-off: the convenience of smart devices in our homes versus the potential for an attacker to learn when we are away or access confidential data.
As these technologies mature, it's important that the manufacturers make sure that they meet current security standards and do not expose users to easily preventable attacks.
Intro to the Cyber Security online course
"Our course examines the trade-offs between usability, security, and privacy."
Edukatico: Another emerging technology is Bitcoin as a digital payment system. Is Bitcoin a safer method for online payments and similar transactions?
Dr Riddle: Bitcoin is a controversial topic currently with a highly volatile value after soaring towards the end of 2017, and some arguing that the bubble is about to burst. As it's a currency independent of any bank, users can exchange bitcoins by sharing their bitcoin address anonymously and protect their money using a 'bitcoin wallet' on their own device without relying on a bank or other third party.
It does however have some implications for privacy – it may not be as anonymous as you expect – and security, since loss of the bitcoin wallet (or the device on which it is stored, or the private key to access the wallet) will lead to loss of bitcoins if the wallet is not backed up.
Edukatico: What are the key topics that are covered by your online course "Cyber Security: Safety at Home, Online, in Life"?
Dr Riddle: We address three key topics across three weeks: Privacy Online, Security of Online Payments and Security in the Connected Home.
Across these topics we examine the trade-offs that we have to make between usability, security and privacy, and encourage learners to examine their own attitudes to these goals. Along the way we look at ongoing research at Newcastle University which investigates security of credit card transactions, unexpected privacy breaches from mobile phones and novel approaches to access control.
Edukatico: Who should participate in your online course? Are there any prerequisites for the course?
Dr Riddle: The course is suitable for people who have some knowledge of cyber security, some IT background and an interest in finding out the state of practice in cyber security as well as future research directions.
Edukatico: Learners from many different regions of the world participate in the course. To what extent can this enrich the learning experience?
Dr Riddle: This is one of the strengths of the course: the level of participation from learners across the world is always very high, and this gives all learners a great insight into different experiences and cultures, particularly in discussions around attitudes to privacy, data protection and online banking.
Edukatico: Thank you for this overview and all the best for your MOOC!
The cyber security course is offered as a MOOC (massive open online course) on the FutureLearn platform. The course is free to learn, and with a paid upgrade, learners can receive a certificate.
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