Safe Computing Tips to Protect Personal Data

Before you put your personal data on your computer, think twice!

If you have any secrets you really want kept, probably the worst place to put them is on your computer. With the recent disclosure that Microsoft is monitoring what songs and movies users of their Media Player are accessing, it is becoming more evident that software makers don’t view your privacy as something worth respecting.

Downloading software off of the net is an excellent way to let others snoop on your private computing activities. Some people have found that certain pieces of software come bundled with other pieces of software, so that downloading one you want really means downloading another unknown piece of spyware. These stealthware packages can track your usage of the net – what sites you visit, and what personal data you enter at the sites – and transmit that data back to the program’s creators.

Some of the stealthware can do even more then just snooping, by popping up ads when you least expect it. Let’s say you want to go to AT&T’s website to check out some of their services. The stealthware on your computer could sense that and pop up an ad over the AT&T site advertising another communications company offering better deals than AT&T. Unless you know the stealthware is there you would have no way to figure out where the intrusive ads were coming from. Or where your personal data is going.

Some ISPs, such as Comcast, had announced plans to keep track of what sites people had visited. Other companies track web usage using cookies left on your PC. Online ad server sites like Double Click, which show banner ads when you visit various sites, can read the cookies as you hop from site to site, noting that you were on a brokerage website, and then going to an online gambling site. The Double Click server can determine you take risks with your money, and show you ads for betting and gambling sites as you jump around the net.

Privacy Optional

Microsoft had even developed a product called Wallet that was supposed to let you register your financial data in order to simplify online transactions, until it was discovered that flaws in the system would let unscrupulous people get at this supposedly private data.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, hackers can exploit holes in Windows XP and Internet Explorer software to download spy software such as Back Orifice onto your machine. These don’t just permit snooping in your files, but allow them to monitor your keystrokes, and even take full control of your computer.

Running a software firewall like ZoneAlarm is a good way to see if anybody is trying to break into your machine, and it may possibly stop some stealthware from shooting your personal information out to third parties elsewhere on the net.

This tax season, if you do your taxes on your computer, then all of your personal information, such as the location of your bank accounts and social security number is already on your machine. And that is enough for a criminal to steal your identity with. Or an unethical marketer to target you for things they determine you have a weakness for.

So before you put your personal data on your computer, think twice. You never know who else might end up knowing all your business.

Article © Copyright 2002 Hugh Brower. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.

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