by Terry Young
How we compromise ourselves every day
When thinking of personal information being exploited, most people think of stolen documents or credit card theft. Few people know that during their daily activities they could be giving away information they probably shouldn't.
Using Public Wi-Fi - People use public networks every day, from airports to coffee shops to thousands of other public locations where they ignore the warning saying, "This is an insecure network, are you sure?"
So many people don't even consider that the "insecure network" warning is there for a reason. While they are connected to an open Wi-Fi, they can be giving away personal information to anyone in the immediate area.
There are freely available programs that allow anyone to scan a Wi-Fi network and gather cookies from connected computers. Cookies are files containing information from when you login to websites. Once a bad person has these, they can access your accounts as you. This process is called sidejacking.
A recent study hired a security expert to investigate how easy it is to get sensitive information from a public Wi-Fi. The expert accessed the website accounts of 350 people in just one hour.
When connecting to any open network, it is imperative that you have an effective firewall to prevent sidejacking.
Sharing Photos - This comes under the 'how easy you are to stalk' category. It also ties into the open Wi-Fi issue - if your computer contains photos from your phone, they could also be remotely accessed while harmlessly sitting in a coffee shop.
While the major social sites have taken steps to avoid this issue, there are several places online that you can post photos, such as gallery sites or smaller dating sites, where you can unknowingly give away more personal information than you intended.
When you take a digital photo, the camera adds extra data, called EXIF, to the photo. This data includes the camera make and model, and the date/time that it was taken.
Such information is harmless, unless the photo was taken with a smartphone or newer GPS-enabled cameras. These add more dubious data (called geo-tagging), which is the GPS location where the photo was taken. This information reveals where the phone was at the time the photo was taken.
Reading a photo's EXIF data is very easy. If you have Location Services enabled on your phone, take a photo and upload it to http://metapicz.com. When uploaded, it will show you the GPS coordinates where the photo was taken. While photos taken of the Statue of Liberty are obviously not an issue, those taken in your kitchen have just revealed your home address.
This is extremely important to be aware of if you have children, particularly teens, who are constantly snapping photos of themselves, then sending and forwarding them all over. To avoid this information being shared, turn off the Location Services in the phone before photos are taken.
Geo-tagging can also cause concern when photos are placed anywhere they can be accessed by the wrong people. For example, if they are sent or received by a web-based e-mail (such as Hotmail, Live, or Yahoo) that is then hacked or on a computer that is stolen.
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Terry Young is the founder and CEO of Internet Marketing and Design. Since 1997,