ABU DHABI // A significant proportion of UAE residents have been victims of online hacking, fraud or identity theft, a new survey indicates.
Of 751 residents questioned for Al Aan TV’s Nabd al Arab (“Arabs’ Pulse”) programme by YouGov Siraj, 24 per cent had been victims of hacking, 13pc of identity theft and 22pc of online fraud.
The result is widespread concern about the risks of social networks, with two in five (40pc) saying they were somewhat or extremely unsafe.
Perhaps because it is the most widely used, Facebook is also the site about which there are most safety concerns, with a third (35pc) of respondents saying it was the least safe social network.
And 42pc of respondents were concerned that Facebook’s new facial recognition feature posed a “big security risk”.
When asked if they would consider deactivating their Facebook account because of the new facial recognition feature, nine per cent said they would, 44 per cent said they might, and most of the rest (47pc) said they would not.
The new technology would make it easier for users to “tag” people in their photos by using its vast database to recognise those people. Ultimately it could allow users to search for people by using a photo. A writer at the PCWorld website last week called the technology “creepy” and “terrifying”.
To opt out of facial recognition, Facebook users can go to Account> Account Settings > Privacy > Customize Settings > Things Others Share and disable “Suggest photos of me to friends”.
Despite the doubts around facial recognition, the director of Zayed University’s advanced cyber forensic research laboratory in Abu Dhabi said Facebook has been shoring up its security.
“Facebook, of course, has launched some privacy settings, which is a good step in the right direction,” Dr Ibrahim Baggili said. “But are most people aware of these and know how to configure their settings themselves?”
Dr Baggili can vouch for the risks inherent in social networks.
“From a technological standpoint, there has been vulnerability that has been found on Facebook, Twitter, and all the social networking websites and even Gmail,” he noted. “There’s always going to be hackers and most of the time, someone is being targeted. I’ve been targeted myself recently.”
In the survey for Al Aan TV, respondents spelt out the risks.
Two-thirds (65pc) said many people online pretend to be someone they were not, while 43 per cent were concerned about the many reported cases of identity theft. Still, nearly half (47pc) thought social networks were safe.
The survey was conducted from June 14 to 22 and had a margin of error of four per cent. Forty-five per cent of the respondents were Asians, 35pc Arab expats, 14pc Emiratis, 5pc westerners and 2pc others.
Dr Baggili said privacy was in peril because members of social networks tend to tell a lot about themselves online.
“Over the last six or seven years, people have been extremely comfortable putting all this personal information online,” he said. “A lot of people had their Facebook accounts hacked and they lost a lot of their personal data, which they don’t want to share with anyone.”
Twenty-nine per cent said they were concerned about being online in general, but far more (63pc) were not, saying they were careful and knew how to keep themselves secure online.
Sixty per cent visit or use social networks, while nine per cent were not members of any social network.
The most popular, by a long way, was Facebook, used by 82 per cent of respondents. It was popular with all nationality groups: Asians (86pc), westerners (67pc) Emiratis (80pc) and Arab expatriates (78pc).
Three quarters of Facebook users said they use the site every day.
Other sites caused far less security concern than Facebook, with none being cited by more than four per cent of respondents.
Twitter was the next most widely used site, with 30 per cent saying they had an account. Even then, it was used less often than Facebook; only 40 per cent said they used it every day.
“It is not really about how secure a site is,” Dr Baggili said. “It’s about how willing you are to expose yourself to other people. Are we posting something in there that will cause our privacy to be compromised? That’s the question that people should be asking themselves.”
He said identity fraud – where hackers obtain personal information and use it to impersonate the owner of the account – continued to thrive on social networks.
“One can create an e-mail address and impersonate that person,” he said. “Identity fraud can also be used to blackmail people.”
Social network users can also fall prey to phishing scams when they click on a link to a bogus site and are asked to log in again, giving their user names and passwords.
“Whatever you post online should be stuff that you don’t care about,” Dr Baggili said. “You shouldn’t care who’s seeing it. Unfortunately, people don’t follow this golden rule, including myself.”
Dana Shadid, a producer on Nabd al Arab, said: “People should be careful who they add on websites such as Facebook because adding random people is a security hazard. The best thing is to ensure that they fully log out of their pages – and they should carefully read any pop-up window that gives them the option to save their username and password.”