Ask first, click later
There’s no escaping cybercrime in an increasingly online world, but asking the right questions can help us navigate them safely
Once upon a time, there was a world. And it wasn’t online. Life was enjoyably complex just as it is now, except that one didn’t have to worry about online privacy, cybercrimes or the reliability of all things online. It was probably easier to lead a quiet and private life.
In the early 1990s, when I was still in school in India, an urgent phone call meant finding the nearest public call booth. Those were the days of the ‘telegram’ (not to be confused with the app of the same name), hand-written letters and postcards. Online communication was still an emerging and fascinating field, especially in a country like India.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who rejects technology. Thanks to all the developments in Internet-related technologies, life has certainly become simpler and easier. And I believe in progress and the innovative possibilities of technology.
Yet, here we are, with the new decade starting with heated debates about messaging platforms getting unsafe, more online scamsters on the prowl and a lot of noise, with confusing signs about where to go from here. Victims of online scams are on the rise. So some of this paranoia and the questions it gives rise to are perhaps justified.
Does one give up an online existence altogether? Do we ditch all the mobile apps that have made life convenient and the world connected in undeniable ways? Do we adopt new ways of messaging and communicating? Or, do we regress to an earlier time? Then, what if we all have a genuine professional requirement to use many of these apps that are being discussed currently?
I think asking ourselves some basic questions could help improve our understanding and awareness. This, in turn, may also help reduce scams and online fraud.
The questions are what I learnt back in my journalism course: 5Ws and 1H or the ‘What, Who, Where, When, Why and How’ questions. These days, as one of my trusted advisors puts it, we would also do well to add: Why now? Interestingly, I find asking and answering these questions come in handy in any situation, especially when we’re in murky waters.
When we ask the 5Ws and 1H, and try to find the answers, we tend to develop an analytical mindset and approach to pretty much everything in life. Let’s say, I receive a email or a call or a text message and if something seems too good to be true — like a free offer, promising me the sun, the moon and then some — I ought to ignore it because, when I put that enticing message through the 5Ws and 1H framework, it may not just add up. Then my mind warns me to be wary. On the other hand, if it is a legitimate message, this questioning exercise will help because I will be able to find convincing answers.
In that sense, I guess we can all become journalists, asking the right questions, looking for logic in a world that is getting increasingly noisy and crowded. This quest for answers and rationale could, to a great extent, help us combat or even unearth scams of all sorts. When I studied journalism and then later got some great on-the-job training in one of India’s oldest newspaper institutions, I never imagined that the 5Ws and 1H framework could help establish online security or prevent cybercrimes. But, I have a feeling this will work for those who are willing to probe. It’s worked for me, so far.
The writer is an author and literary journalist. She also heads Corporate Communications at UST. Views expressed are personal. Twitter: @anupamaraju