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Social media apps can sell your pictures, says expert.

Summary: Cyber specialists speak about dangers of cyber blackmail

Abdul Aziz Al Zarouni makes a point during the awareness session at the Dubai Women's Association on Tuesday Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News Abdul Aziz Al Zarouni makes a point during the awarenesssession at the Dubai Women's Association on Tuesday. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News Mary Achkhanian, Staff Reporter

Dubai: You could be the next victim of cyber blackmail if you don't learn how to secure yourself while using social media, cyber security experts have warned.

A growing number of complaints to Al Ameen - a service allowing people to anonymously contact the police - indicates a higher level of awareness among the community on cyber blackmail, but more needs to be done, they said.

Every day, hundreds of people are falling victim to cyber blackmail because of the way they have been using their smartphones along with applications, a security engineer has said. "As our whole life becomes linked to our smartphone and the number of apps we use continues to increase, we must understand the dos and don'ts to avoid having our information falling into the wrong hands," said Abdul Aziz Al Zarouni of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). He was speaking at an awareness session on cyber blackmail at the Dubai Women's Association on Tuesday.

The session is a collaboration between the TRA and Dubai Police to raise awareness of the dangers of cyber blackmail, its legal aspects and the cybercrime law, as well as the risks of social media misuse.

"Everything you share on social media is no longer private or protected, your pictures and videos are being stored, sold and reused for other purposes. Do you know why? It's because you have agreed to that, you have accepted the terms and conditions."

Another speaker at the session, Khalid Al Ali, a media consultant, said apps likes Google have been allowed access to our location, emails, numbers and even phone log. "Snapchat is free to do what they want with your pictures and videos, which are stored outside the country. Don't be surprised to see your picture on a shampoo ad somewhere, they sold it to them. That's how they make their money."

Even WhatsApp has been granted access to exchanged messages, he added. "Social media is the real war we are currently dealing with."

Al Zarouni later spoke about people who have fallen victim to cyber blackmail because of social media, adding that apps can either be hacked or criminals can target people directly.

"In the UAE, certain individuals become victims because they opened the door to criminals to access their profile and personal information. A simple 'follow' on your profile by a person pretending to be someone leads to a direct chat, a chat leads to an indecent video call aimed at making you fall for it and that video call leads to a person being threatened. Don't simply surrender, report it to us and we can deal with it."

In 2013, Al Ameen received 80 reports on cyber blackmail, in 2014 it went up to 212 and in 2015 it increased even more, they said. Also, reports to police increased from 59 in 2013 to 78 in 2014.

Al Zarouni warned against the dangers of dating apps in particular, saying most impostors take advantage of them to target people.

Al Ali gave an example of 45 children between the ages of 10 and 19 who were blackmailed by three criminals, also in the GCC, saying some of the children were in the UAE.

"Children can fall into depression if they are blackmailed and it could lead to suicide. Educate your children well about this."

Safety tips

Read the terms and conditions before agreeing to them

Do not accept microphone, camera, and location access from apps that do not require them

Do not allow unknown people to access your profile

Do not 'jailbreak' (the use of a tool to remove manufacturer or carrier restrictions) your phone, it can make it easier for hackers to hack you

Do not allow any person to set up your phone along with the iCloud accounts, as they can get access to all your personal information

Do not open links that claim to have a personal picture of you

Do not use the same password for all accounts, simple changes in letters of the password are enough

Use an authentication code to avoid hackers from accessing your profiles

Make sure your WhatsApp is not linked to another device, by checking WhatsApp Web in settings.

Call 8004888 to report to Al Ameen Service

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:May 11, 2016
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