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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Privacy & identity online

It's scary to think that everything we do online can be tracked or watched by someone else. Everything we do online is stored and saved and can get back at us at any time. Malware in programs and apps that we use are also getting much more common and increasing with an exponantional rate as internet is used more and more for everything we do in daily life. There are a number of things that can be tracked about what we do online and I thought I would write about some of that here because although this might be old news to some, a lot of people don't have a clue.

They know where you live:
Open your browser and type in the address bar. When you press enter, the page that appears is the Japanese google page, www, How can google know that you live in Japan? Google cannot only figure out in which country you live, but also in what city. Other sites may be able to do this too. The technology that makes it possible is called geo-location. There are companies that specialize in helping sites to link geographic information to Ip addresses. The companies have large databases with information on where routers and servers are located and what IP addresses they have.
Even if your IP address is not in the database, companies can still make a very good guess on where you live.

They know how you surf:
Whois, is simply stated, a directory of information that makes it possible to determine to which internet supplier a certain IP address belongs.

They know how your computer looks like:
When you visit a website, your web browser gives out information about your computer. The idea is that the website will be able to to use the information to customize web pages for you. The information disclosed is on what web browser you use, what operating system you have and what resolution and how many colors your monitor is set to display.

They can see what you're looking for:
The American security company Spi Dynamics has shown that with simple means, a website can find out which searches you've done on the internet and what sites you've visited. Having said that, maybe there isn't such a big reason to worry though. Technology cannot find out all the sites you visited or all searches you have done but can only be used to confirm that you visited a particular site or have done a particular search. Spi Dynamics says that it is bad enough and provides a frightening example of how technology could be used. The FBI would secretly be able to check if a person who visits its website at some earlier time have done a search on the word "bomb-making" on google for example and would then be able to register the person's IP address.

They can see your clipboard:
A site can also see what's on your clipboard in windows. In this case it is best to have in mind for next time you cut or copy information in windows, otherwise you risk that any website you visit snaps up the information without you knowing it. Enter a piece of text in Word or Notepad, highlight the text and copy it to the clipboard. Open your browser and go to spyber, a little way down the page is now displayed the content of your clipboard. Basically never have any important personal information such as user name, password or account number on the clipboard because it's very easy for others to view that information.

The question iv'e been asking myself though lately, when you come to the point where you are scared of being tagged in a photo from previous weekend every monday for the whole world to see, is it worth using anymore? The problem with social networks like facebook and twitter are also of course that there are so many malicious links and virus spreads. Basically, every single step we take out in the world of cyberspace is being watched. I've tried keeping my facebook usage to a minimum these days and have privacy settings for everything and everyone and I intend to keep it that way.


  1. They are aggregating information about you but do they really "know you."'t%20know%20me.PDF

  2. Thanks for the thorough and slightly frightening blog post.

    You are absolutely correct in pointing out how much information we share just by visiting websites. You are also correct in saying that most folks have no clue.

    And then there are others who would say this is actually a good thing. It means that consumers can get sent advertisements for stuff that would be of interest to them.

    I wonder how Bush, Englelbart and Nelson would feel about the way the promise of the digital age to be one of fast and easy access to information would turn into such a marketing bonanza and surveillance state.

    I've not seen the SPyber service you mentioned before. That is a powerful example of what you are dealing with in this great post.

    ne more point, please remember that WB 4 and 5 are supposed to include a question about the topic for the final exam. Can you amend your post to include one, please?