by Greg Voakes
The Internet is typically our go-to destination for gathering information about long lost friends, family, even ourselves. We know our friends and foes do it too, but we tend to think "stalking" in non-threatening ways. Maybe we’ll reconnect with an old friend or co-worker. Perhaps someone we didn’t like in grade school will be jealous of our accomplishments. The truth is that we never think about the dark side of sharing online – identity theft.
Just consider the vast amounts of personal data that gets posted online every day:
- Status updates on Facebook and other social sites
- Tweets about our favorite activities, vacation plans, professional conferences, and other plans
- YouTube videos taken inside and outside our home, about our kids, friends, pets and property
- Our comments on blogs and newspaper websites, where we log in using our Facebook accounts
- LinkedIn profiles about previous jobs and schools
- Every Google+ comment ever made, and link ever posted
- Online petitions you’ve signed
- Wedding gift registries
- White page listings for every address you’ve ever lived at
When you add it all up, this is a pretty comprehensive list of sources where a hacker could find almost any piece of personal information. If you are Facebook friends with your mother, even her maiden name is easy to figure out. Take a moment to search for yourself, and you’ll see that all of this information is online, accessible in seconds.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because we have consistent online habits that hackers love to exploit. We use the same passwords for many websites because we are too lazy to remember unique ones every time. All it takes is one website with weak security and our passwords can become public. Once a hacker has your email address and password, they can gain access to your social media accounts, steal from your bank accounts, scam your friends and relatives, and do some real damage to your life. Identity theft isn’t something you want to experience.
More than 400,000 Yahoo passwords were leaked online a few weeks ago. If it happened to you, even if you’ve changed your Yahoo password, the bad guys – hackers, thieves, criminals and stalkers – can use that same password to break into other accounts. Last month it was 4 million LinkedIn passwords. Last year it was Sony and eHarmony. Data is never 100% safe, no matter how secure websites claim to be.
We need to be more careful about both our personal security and the information we share. Once we post it, it stays online forever. We can’t use passwords and security codes that include addresses, our kids’ or pets’ names, important dates, favorite movies, hobbies, or other things can be easily figured out based on personal information. We also have to make sure that our offline lives, including our homes, cars, and offices, are protected by a reliable security company. All it takes is one careless website to cause a major security breach in our lives, one which can be exploited by criminals online and in the real world. Even though we know our acquaintances will harmlessly stalk us online, we need to make sure hackers and thieves can’t get access to the important data that could be used against us.