Everyday Computing, Features

Trusted Messages

Image of Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant
By Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant

DURING the passage of a hurricane, especially one as large and powerful as Maria, it is remarkable that we could receive messages from family and friends in the affected islands. Thanks to social media and the marvels of modern communications, we received some horrifying updates from Dominica while it suffered a direct hit.

For some time before their ICT infrastructure was compromised by storm-related damage, we glimpsed the horror caused by Hurricane Maria. Once again, we should be thankful that we dodged the ravages of another devastating storm because our good fortune may not last indefinitely.

Many hurricane-related messages were sent even before the storm struck. NEMO sent messages via SMS to advise residents to monitor the storm’s progress and afterward to notify that the all-clear was issued. Instructions from the (acting) Prime Minister were relayed via social media, safely shutting down the country in preparation for the storm. Similarly relayed were advisories from the Met Office providing status updates on the storm. All good and useful messages from authoritative sources.

You may have received other less-authoritative messages, especially one describing a boat captain willing to transport vital relief supplies to our sister island, and urging us to “spread the word” in a manner disturbingly similar to regular hoax messages. Uncovering the truth behind that particular message took significant effort. In another example, and more confusingly, other images were received that appeared to show scenes of devastation which were actually caused by previous hurricanes.

These examples show how we can be easily deceived and manipulated, especially if we are reeling from a disaster or other distraction. Here are some ways to detect official messages:
* They feature a date-stamp, a name and a recognizable format;
* They arrive when expected and have specific markings;
* They bear a security number or sequence;
* They show contact details of the originator.

Fortunately, messages from the Met Office bear the forecaster’s name, and those from the Prime Minster appear on official letterhead. Other trusted messages are not usually vague, and don’t command you to take some indefinite action, such as forwarding to all your friends.

How do we avoid being fooled by scam artists, ne’er-do-wells and idle hands without hearts? It is not easy. It also shows that we can ill-afford to let down our guard, especially when in a crisis.

To share your views, contact the author at: www.datashore.net or via The VOICE.

About the Author
Dr.Lyndell St. Ville is an ICT Consultant based in Saint Lucia, offering expertise in systems design, backup, and business continuity planning.

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