Author: Yogi Schulz
It’s difficult to surf the web without leaving virtual footprints that can be exploited by others. Web sites that we visit frequently can build a profile of our interests, preferences and habits without our consent or our awareness. Businesses can use our profile data to market to us. When such marketing becomes excessive, it irritates us with unwanted junk mail and spam e-mail. Criminals can use our identification data to take over our identity to steal our assets. When that happens, it’s called fraud and greatly disrupts our lives.
In the real world we can choose to remain much more private as we wander about. On the Web, we can feel quite over-exposed. What can we do to safeguard our identity on the Web?
Too many user ids
Our identity becomes progressively more widely known as we create user id and password combinations at more and more web sites where we want to do business. For example, as consumers many of us have user ids for WestJet, Chapters Indigo, eBay, L. L. Bean and at least one bank to name a few. As an information technology consultant, I have user ids for IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun among others. As this list grows, the chance of one or more of our user ids becoming known to a criminal grows.
We can better protect our identity if we follow some simple precautions. First, we should only share personal information when the little lock is displayed in the message area along the bottom of our browser window. The lock indicates that communication between ourselves and the web site we’re accessing is encrypted. Second, we should avoid entering most contests or signing up for “free” offers. These are frequently little more than thinly disguised attempts to gather personal information as a prelude to inundating us with spam or worse. Third, we should not provide more information than is necessary to complete the business we want to conduct. For example, some businesses want to know our mother’s maiden name or our Social Insurance Number. Such requests are excessive in my opinion. We should re-evaluate our interest in doing business with those who want to know too much. Fourth, our e-mail signature should not include a graphic of our written signature. Why tempt anyone to forge documents in our name with a pilfered copy of our signature.
Who is tracking us?
A quick way to assess how much of our web surfing is being tracked is to determine how much undesirable software has insinuated itself on our PC. The software package Ad-aware from www.lavasoftusa.com will scan our disk looking for cookies and spyware that is used to track our web surfing.
Cookies are small files that are created on our PC when we visit some web sites for the first time. The contents of the cookie will be read and updated when we visit the web site again. The principal content of each cookie is an identifier that represents us. The web site that created the cookie can then capture our surfing behavior and buying history, for that web site only.
Spyware refers to software that secretly uses our Internet connection to send data to a spy about our web surfing, for all web sites. The surfing data is used to build a profile that is sold to advertisers to enable targeted promotion. More maliciously, our identification data may be sold to criminals who will attempt to assume our identity to loot our financial assets.
We can eliminate this rubbish by using Ad-aware regularly to clean up. Anti-virus software does not scan for these types of files.
We can manage our identity on the web by being cautious about who we give personal information to. We can enhance our sense of privacy, thwart profile builders and foil identity thieves by regularly deleting files on our PC that accumulate from web surfing. For more detailed information, please visit the web sites listed in the sidebar.
Web Surfing Cleanup Software
AceSoft – Tracks Eraserwww.acesoft.net
Lava Soft – Ad-awarewww.lavasoftusa.com
Identity Theft Resources
Identity Theft Resource Centerwww.idtheftcenter.org
Privacy Commissioner of Canadawww.privcom.gc.ca/fs-fi/02_05_d_10_e.asp
Privacy Rights Clearinghousewww.privacyrights.org
RCMP – Identity Theftwww.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/scams/identity.htm
United States Federal Trade Commissionwww.consumer.gov/idtheft
ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name
Identity Theft Insurance