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Are you vulnerable to hackers and indentity thieves?

by Peter Reid

(NAPS)-Too much information can be a bad thing-especially online, where hackers can use your personal information to your disadvantage.

By stealing such information, thieves can apply for credit cards and loans in your name, hack into and damage your home computer, and threaten the safety of your family. Fortunately, there are ways to guard online privacy. Here are 10 easy tips to get you started:

1. Check every Website’s privacy policy before doing business with it. Privacy policies should be in plain English. If one does not exist, find another Website.

2. Find out what information will be collected and how it will be used. The privacy policy should tell you this.

Many sites sell their customer lists and data to third parties unknown to you. You should be able to opt out or unsubscribe. If you do not wish a site to sell your information and you do not have an option to opt out, find another Website.

3. Never give vital information, such as a credit card number, over anything but a secure connection. Before you provide sensitive information, the site should tell you that you are moving into a secure-encrypted-area.

4. Check information about yourself. You should be able to review your information and, if necessary, correct it.

5. Balance your privacy against the value of the services offered. Some sites will ask for information in exchange for access to them or higher levels of service. Decide whether they ask too much.

6. What are the cookies cooking up? Cookies are small data files Websites use to store information in your computer, such as your password, and track your progress through the site.
In most instances, cookies are used to provide valuable personalized services. However, cookie technology can also abuse privacy. End users cannot usually tell how specific cookies are being used.

Your browser’s cookie control option can tell you when a site wants to give you a cookie and get your permission.

Standard browser software lets you disable cookies, but doing so may limit access to some sites. Check the cookies already on your hard drive and delete those you don’t want.

7. E-mail is forever. Email is sent electronically, and all it takes is a push of the “forward” button to send to anyone. Even when you “delete” e-mail, its ghost remains in your computer and can be recovered by, for example, your employer or anyone with a subpoena. Keep that in mind when you write.

8. Consider encryption. There are programs to encrypt e-mail, but you have to make sure all your recipients have the key. Your messages can still be recalled from your computer, and you can’t be sure that your decrypted messages won’t be forwarded.

9. Prevent hack attacks. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) links speed service, but they are always on when your computer is on, leaving your files vulnerable to hackers. Protect yourself by installing firewall software on your PC.

10. Remember what mom said about talking to strangers. Chat rooms can lead spammers back to your address, loading you up with unwanted e-mail.

Privacy remains a matter of personal comfort. Some feel that their privacy is invaded by third party advertisements generated by a site they visit. Others see such advertising as a trade-off for services obtained at no or reduced costs.

The choice should always be yours. If it isn’t, exploit one of the principal virtues of the online economy: find another Website. There are plenty of alternatives.
Peter Reid is vice-president of the Privacy Center of Expertise at NCR ‘s Teradata Division.






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