How we compromise our identities 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 - Many people use public networks on a regular basis. From airports to coffee shops, and thousands of other public locations where they eagerly close the warning saying "This is an insecure network. Are you really sure you want to connect?" so that they don't miss important Facebook messages.

Most people don't even consider that the "insecure network" warning is there for a reason and that while connected to an open Wi-Fi they can be giving away personal information to anyone in the immediate area.

There is a freely available program online that allows a user to scan a Wi-Fi and gather cookies from connected computers. Cookies are files containing the information that logs you into sites automatically the next time you visit. Once the bad person has these, they can gain access to your accounts as you. This process is called sidejacking.

A British study in late 2010 hired a security expert to investigate how easy it is to extract sensitive information from a public Wi-Fi. Each sidejack took just a few seconds, and the expert accessed web site accounts of 350 people in just one hour.

When connecting to any open network, it is imperative that you have an effective firewall.

Sharing Photos - This comes under the 'how easy you are to stalk' category, but also ties into the open Wi-Fi issue if your computer contains photos from your phone. These 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 intended.

When you take a digital photo, the camera adds extra data, called EXIF, to the photo, such as the camera make and model, a unique file ID, and date/time that it was taken.

Such information is harmless, unless the photo was taken with a smartphone. Smartphones add more dubious data, 'geo-tagging,' the GPS location when the photo was taken. With this information, you can see where the phone was at the time.

Recently, some Ohio Burger King employees put a photo online of them standing in open salad containers, later to be served to customers. Reading the photos EXIF data, disgusted viewers quickly located and contacted the store, and the employees were fired.

While photos taken from the Statue of Liberty are obviously not an issue, those taken in your kitchen have just also included your address. This is extremely important for children or teens, who are constantly snapping photos of themselves, then sending and forwarding them all over.

To avoid this, turn off the GPS in the phone before you take photos.

Geo-tagging can cause concern when placed anywhere they can be accessed by the wrong people. For example, if sent or received by web-based emails, such as Hotmail, Live or Yahoo, which is then hacked, or on a computer, which is stolen. Most people are careful to secure other personal documents, but overlook photos.

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