Social Networks Cause Stolen Identities
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
Facebook, My Space, and Twitter are all examples of the burgeoning social networking phenomenon that’s happening all across the world. For those of you living under a rock since 2005, I will give a brief history. The rest of you can skip down to the paragraph that says “Free beer.”
My Space was the first giant social networking company that briefly became the website with the most hits in the world after beating out Napster (remember them?). For the first time, anyone with the ability to spell could make a web page that could easily be customized and shared with friends and people you don’t even know, but would like to. All kinds of gimmicks are used to keep people interested in coming back to update their page and tell their friends what they’re up to. Money is made by ads that My Space sells to put on your page every time that page is visited. The most interesting thing about this technology is that many people have broken up with their significant others using this site because it’s easier than facing them.
Facebook is a similar social networking site, although it started as a “college only” membership. A couple of years ago they opened it up to everyone and it has stolen the crown with the most users. My Space still leads the way in the US, but Facebook has more users worldwide. They touted an easier and cleaner interface for creating custom pages, but then ruined it by changing the interface until it caused an uproar. They have since started listening to their members and have tried to undo some of the damage. (God forbid someone makes an easy to use product. We can’t leave that unbroken.)
That leaves us with Twitter. This social network product has a twist. It currently makes no money, but they are being incorporated into many commercial programs that may give them a bright future. With Twitter, users can send Tweets of up to 140 characters to anyone who is following them. One of the good things about Twitter is that lives have been saved by being able to send tweet messages to multiple people simultaneously when someone gets into trouble. A feat that was previously not possible. But now you have to break up with your significant other using a much smaller amount of text that has to be more creative. I personally like “It’s not me. It’s you.”, and “Your dirty laundry and your computer are in the front yard.”
So now we get to the scary part. When you have tens of millions of people using anything, the bad guys come out to see what all the fuss is about and try to exploit it. In the past few weeks, the big news has been all about Phishing. This is a type of attack that attempts to get you to click on a link that will infect your computer or try to get you to give out your credit card or other personal information. This has been happening by email for years, but new technology allows it to happen by simply visiting a web page. This week, the scam involved having what appeared to be a friend or celebrity send a fake Facebook link for you to click on in your email.
It actually takes you to a Facebook look alike site, and when you type in your username and password, you can say goodbye to your identity. They will log into your account and get all your personal information. Within days, credit cards will be opened in your name and your credit rating will be ruined. Within weeks, phone calls will come to your house asking why you haven’t paid your bills and lawsuits will be filed against you. This ultimately will lead you to living in a box on the side of the road, unless you take precautions.
Twitter is having a different problem but with similar results. Their network keeps getting hacked. The accounts of celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher (the person with the first million followers) and our own president have had their account information compromised.
So what should you do about it? Well, if you insist on telling everyone who follows your tweets when you’re eating a sandwich using Twitter, or showing us your latest lampshade on your head pictures on My Space from your last party, then you have to do some things that may cost you a few bucks.
The first thing is to enroll in a legitimate identity protection program. Bbb.gov can help you determine this by allowing you to check up on companies that offer one of these programs. Then you need a good antivirus and anti malware program that will keep your computer from getting infected. You should also take away administrator rights to your account on your computer. This will keep most programs from installing without your knowledge. Turn off file and folder sharing in the properties of your network card unless you need it. Make sure your computer account has a complex password along with any websites you sign up for. A complex password is a minimum of eight characters with at least one capital letter and one number. Make sure it doesn’t spell a known word. All hackers are aware of this trick.
Turn on the anti phishing filter in your web browser. It’s not 100% effective, but it mostly works. Make sure your Windows updates are patched to the latest level and update your web browser. IE 8 was just released and has great protection along with Firefox 3.0.4. Make sure your firewall is turned on, and don’t click on links in emails. Copy the link into Google and do a search on it. Then you’ll know if it’s safe.
For more great tips, check back here and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10 AM in Seattle on KOL, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com.
If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, I will always answer by email.