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Think before you click! Human trafficking and the Internet

Kedrian James

Sunday, October 14, 2018

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The Jamaica Cyber Incident Response Team (Ja-CIRT) in the Ministry of Science and Technology is currently observing its third national Cybersecurity Awareness Month. The general theme for the month is 'Cybersecurity — Our Shared Responsibility', and the sub-theme is 'Think Before You Click'.

I do believe that this is fitting theme and we all have a shared responsibility in being cyber secure. Not thinking before you click could lead to computers being infected with viruses as well as phishing attacks that result in identity theft. As an example, in a phishing attack, an attacker crafts fake e-mail impersonating a bank or other organisation. The attacker sends the e-mail with a link requesting that customers click the link for urgent account updates. When a customer clicks the link he/she is redirected to a fake website that looks exactly like the bank's website. At this point, if the customer enters their credentials to login, it will be stolen.

Aside from these attacks, not being cyber aware could also lead to human trafficking, via social engineering, through the Internet. In the realm of cybersecurity, social engineering is an act of psychological manipulation of a person to have them expose their personal information or perform certain actions. As such, it is highly important that we, as Jamaicans, understand the role the Internet plays in facilitating human trafficking.

How does the Internet facilitate human trafficking?

The Internet is used to facilitate human trafficking in various ways depending on the victim the trafficker is targeting. It is important to note that human trafficking is not limited to adults, children are also targets. In some cases, a trafficker may contact a victim on a social networking site such as Facebook, where they will express feelings of love and admiration for a potential victim in an effort to gain trust. In addition, if the trafficker realises that the victim is in a bad financial situation they may offer financial assistance along with purchasing a plane ticket for the victim to relocate for a better life.

Another technique the trafficker may use to lure a victim is to post fake job offerings online which promise great salaries. These jobs will often require the victim to relocate to another country. A person who is desperately in need of a job may easily fall victim to such a scam. Traffickers may also use people in a potential victim's friend circle to gather information such as phone numbers and social media handles in an effort to make contact with the victim.

As it relates to child trafficking some of the techniques are slightly different, as a trafficker may make contact online with the child or parents. In the case of making contact with the child, the trafficker will attempt to build an emotional connection with the child to gain trust. Once trust is gained online, the trafficker may organise physical meetings in an effort to traffic the child. As it relates to parents, the trafficker makes contact with the child's parents online and uses various techniques to gain the parents trust. Once trust is gained the trafficker tries to convince parents that their child will have a better education, life or future in another location. The trafficker may offer to pay travelling expenses as well as fund the child's education once they have relocated.

Combating human trafficking via the Internet?

There are several ways in which adults can protect themselves, as well as their children. An important step in protecting yourself or children from human trafficking is to limit the amount of personal information that is uploaded on social media sites. The information posted on these sites, if not private, allows a trafficker to easily capture your personal information without needing to make physical contact. The trafficker will use your personal information to create a profile of you so they know how best to approach you as a victim.

In addition to limiting personal information, while online never be too quick to accept request from strangers to be friends or initiate conversations with strangers offering financial assistance or jobs that pay well. Similar to how a trafficker conducts a research about you as a victim, you can also perform Google searches to confirm if what the person is saying is true. It is quite easy for anyone to create fake social media profiles and message you. When searching for jobs online use reputable job sites and conduct research on the individual or organisation offering the job so as to establish its credibility.

As it relates to protecting children, an important first step is to make them aware of the dangers they will be exposed to while surfing the Internet. Ensure they are made aware of how they might become potential victims of child trafficking. In addition, parents should never allow children under a certain age to be on social networks. For children who are of a certain age and are allowed to be on these networks parents should monitor Internet histories. If a child gets smart and deletes certain logs from the history, then ensure that Internet monitoring software is installed and grant limited privileges on the device.

Kedrian James is a lecturer in cybersecurity at the School of Computing and Information Technology in the Faculty of Engineering and Computing, University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or kedrianjames@gmail.com.

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