Identity Theft and Internet Security

My Account button on PC display

Courtesy Microsoft Clip Art

What does identity theft have to do with Internet security? We’ve all heard about a person’s purse or wallet being stolen in order to access their personal identification information such as driver’s license, checkbook, and home address. These items are used to impersonate them in order to access their credit card account, bank account, and to open new credit card accounts in order to steal their money. This form of theft is conducted in many cases by organized crime groups who sell the credit card numbers, and personal information very quickly through a network of criminals who use this information to obtain cash, or merchandise that can be sold or returned for cash.There is a similar process being conducted using the Internet.

There are organized criminal groups in countries such as Russia, Romania, South Korea, Brazil, China, and others who have developed Internet programs called “bots”, short for robot, that are secretly placed on computers of people all over the world. The bots are remotely controlled by the crime group who placed them. The purpose of these bots is usually to search the disk files of the computer “hosting” them to find personal information such as online bank account numbers, names and addresses and send them to the controlling organizations…sound familiar? Yes, they use the same or similar networks of criminal activity that the purse snatching organizations use. Except that by using the Internet they can gather much more information more quickly, with little threat of being caught. 

This type of cyber-crime has proliferated in the last year or two for two main reasons: 1. it’s very lucrative and relatively safe, and 2. the Internet programs (bots) are being sold by the groups who authored the bots, to other criminal groups. If this isn’t bad enough, the bots hide themselves on our computers to be used for other types of crime in the future. 

How do we protect ourselves and our computers against this army of criminals of the cyber-world? We must adopt computer security best practices in the use of our computers. This includes using a firewall to control who can access your computer from the Internet and using strong passwords to protect our computer data should an intruder get past the firewall. 

There are several ways to obtain a firewall. Firewalls usually are part of a paid subscription to computer security packages, Windows comes with a firewall included, and firewalls are available free online…though some of these are better than others. And they all require that the Internet addresses of the “bad guys” are kept updated. This is a good reason to use the paid subscription packages which are updated each time you start your computer. 

Strong passwords are those that are difficult for a password hacking program to identify (crack). I recently performed a “password cracking” search on Google which produced 1,360,000 hits on password cracking software that can be downloaded…most of it for free…by criminals. It’s important to remember that if your password is obtained by these criminals they can impersonate you to access your bank account online, and withdraw your money by transferring it electronically to another bank account in another country. Once obtaining your password the theft is much easier to perform. For some tips on passwords and how to create a strong one see the following posts on this blog: 

Passwords Part I: What Are Passwords and Why Do We Need Them?

Passwords Part II: What Are Strong Passwords Anyway?

Passwords Part III: Six Steps To A Strong Passwords You Can Remember

Passwords Part IV: Care And Feeding Of Our Passwords

These blog posts will provide lots of information concerning passwords such as why they’re important, how to create a strong one, and even how to determine the strength of your password. 

While the Internet is a wonderful source of information, entertainment, shopping, and communication; it’s unfortunately also being used by a criminal population to try to steal from us. We therefore need to use it cautiously and safely in order to continue to enjoy its benefits.

Have you had a bad experience with Internet crime, or additional information to contribute?  If so, please post a comment, we’d love to hear from you.

Remember, home computing is a blast…keep it productive and enjoyable.

Best regards,

Paul

paulshomecomputing@yahoo.com

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