Keeping Your Personal Information Private – Part 4

In Part 3, we reviewed Protecting your email information with security tools.  Today, our subject is an increasingly troubling and even dangerous phenomenon commonly referred to as cyber talking and some thoughts on Defending against cyber stalking.  

Online stalking or cyber stalking is unfortunately not new.  There are 15-20 year old websites relating to the topic that continue to receive inquiries.  With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, however, online stalking has become more common and more dangerous.  Growing numbers of people are reporting being pursued by stalkers via cell phones, internet services, GPS systems, wireless video cameras, and other technologies.

Generally speaking there are two types of online stalkers: one time offenders who hold a grudge or otherwise have developed an obsession, and serial stalkers who are always on the lookout for new victims. Although there are many variations on the theme, typically cyber stalkers will become more demanding over time and may eventually try to force you into doing what they want by threatening to or actually publishing defamatory, malicious information or private, personal data that could hurt you, your relationships, and/or your career.

The best way to defend yourself against cyber stalking is to make it hard for stalkers to find you and your private information in the first place.

  • When on the internet, never use your actual name – use a name or sign that is as unrelated to you as you can invent.
  • Never give out personal details like phone numbers or physical addresses.
  • Do not send any confidential information via a personal computer.  If absolutely necessary, use a library computer which a stalker is less likely to be able to track.
  • Remove any personal information from social media sites.

Perhaps most importantly, it is critically important to effectively manage the information broker community.  People finder data bases that contain vast amounts of sensitive personal information and readily sell that information on the internet make it very easy for stalkers to not only find and harass you, but equally easy to extend their activities to family members, relatives and associates.  Hence it is a fundamental imperative that you manage your personal information and direct its removal from those data bases that might publish or sell your information.   In fact, that’s the focus of our next session.

In Part 5 we’ll talk about How to manage the removal of your personal information from unauthorized sites and sites that sell your personal information.    

Protecting your personal information in an on-line world is a never ending and time consuming, but very necessary process for individual and family safety – especially today.

Keeping Your Personal Information Private – Part 3

In Part 2, we discussed Dealing with tracking software Today, we’ll talk about Protecting your email information with security tools because email is yet another one of the ways your information is being acquired.  

We’re going to look at this issue in two dimensions today.  To begin with, when emailing to unknown parties: posting to newsgroups, mailing lists, chat rooms and other public spaces on the Net; or publishing a Web page that mentions your email address, it is best to do this from a separate pseudonymous or simply alternate address that can be easily acquired at no charge from email service providers such as Yahoo Mail or Hotmail.  And, do not use any part of your name in the “throw away” email address.  Addresses that are posted (even as part of message headers) in public spaces can be easily discovered by spammers (online junk mailers) and added to their list of targets.  If this address is spammed enough to become annoying, you can simply delete it, and create a new one.  Reserve your main or preferred email address for use with small, members-only lists and with known, trusted individuals.

On a separate note, most people think of the content of their email messages when they hear or read about email traffic being monitored or intercepted.  Few, however, realize that the metadata content – the record of who you are communicating with and how often – is equally as important to some.  Of course, we’ve recently learned that government agencies have been logging metadata on email communications for quite some time – and, in recent years, that data has included information on American citizens.  In addition, the government has been acquiring contact lists from around the world to the tune of some 250 million people a year.

Interestingly, as a result of the spying tactics that are all too possible in the digital age, several small companies emerged that provided encrypted email services as a possible defense, but have since shut down when asked to provide their encryption keys.  Additionally, while they were able to encrypt email message content, the use of email protocols such as SMTP, POP3 and IMAP left the metadata exposed.  In the end, they felt the risks to their client base were too great – and may have yielded a false sense of security.  New services are emerging which will encrypt both content and the metadata, but they will require the sender and the receiver to be using the same service, and will not be particularly useful until (and if) they become ubiquitous.

While typical email protocols do not permit protecting metadata content, there are steps you can take to secure the content of messages you send.  First, if you are using webmail, be sure that you are using the common internet security protocols, SSL and TLS.  You’ll know that you are if the browser’s address starts with https – and you should see a small padlock.  On the other hand, if you are using a desktop email client, make sure you are connected via SSL/TLS over IMAP or POP3. If you are not, your email messages are being sent in clear text that can be easily read by others.  Finally, the big three email services Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook, offer a security feature known as two-factor authentication.  Be sure to activate that feature in your system.

In Part 4, we’ll talk about Defending against cyber stalking.  

Protecting your personal information in an on-line world is a never ending and time consuming, but very necessary process for individual and family safety – especially today.