Tag Archives: privacy

Strong Passwords: They’re Not Just for Online Banking Anymore

I’ve talked about the importance of strong passwords many times before. You can find several articles with this site’s search feature, or you can just read this quick rundown:

  1. Short, single word or short-word-and-a-number passwords are bad
  2. Passwords like “123456” and “password” are very, very bad.
  3. Passwords that are over 16 characters and consist of garbled strings of letters, numbers and special characters are good (“*#&uE9efh09efIUN98E(Ubdf%%23r” for example)
  4. Never use the same password for more than one website, and use a password storage program like Lastpass to help you maintain your sanity

Whenever I bring up passwords, though, I’m almost always talking about things like online banking, social networks, email accounts, and other websites where your credentials need to be kept confidential. What I don’t often bring up are all the THINGS that are now Internet-enabled.

Things like thermostats, interior lights and security cameras. Hot tubs, televisions. Garage door openersrosie

The idea, of course, is to bring the vision of The Jetsons into the real world. We want to walk into a room and have the thermostat know we like it to be 73 degrees during the afternoon but 76 at night. We want to be able to check our security cameras from our phones while we’re on vacation. I personally want a black ’82 Trans Am with a self-aware cybernetic logic module (and a snarky sense of humor) that can jump over walls from a dead standstill, so I can go around punching out bad guys in tan leather jackets who have been poisoning horses or whatever.

But when your THINGS are connected to the Internet, you might face some new security and privacy issues. Many of these devices are pre-set with a default password (or have a username and password as an OPTION, in the case of older products), and if you don’t change the default (or set a password in the first place), anyone who knows the default password could manipulate them remotely. They could run up your utility bills or open your garage door from the other side of the globe. If your security cameras are remotely accessible and you don’t set a password, or leave it set to the default, someone could spy on you in your home. Or set up a website collecting hacked cameras from around the world so anyone on the Internet can watch.

So what applies to websites applies to your Internet-enabled appliances and other devices: use a good password for everything, and never leave a new device’s password set to the factory default (or neglect to set one up, if it’s optional). There are too many people who know how to access them.

Online privacy vs. the need to share

I’ve been on the fence about social networking lately. To what extent does it allow us to connect, reconnect and share, and to what extent does it give far too many third parties access to our personal lives?

And when I say “social networking,” let’s have it out in the open: that means Facebook. I mean, it’s possible to overshare on Twitter, but most tweets amount to inane babble that doesn’t reveal much about anything. It’s possible to overshare on MySpace, but that would require people to still be using MySpace when, in general, they’re not. It’s all about the Facebook these days.

Sure, Facebook can be fun. You can find people you haven’t seen in years. Share photos. Make flippant remarks about everything (this is mostly what I do there).

But I think the company is cocky sometimes. They have been guilty of assuming that, just because you want to share a photo with your friends, you automatically want to share it with literally every single person (and company) with an Internet connection. I also heard they were predicting 750 million, then 1 billion, users before too long, after they hit 500 million. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen. Facebook has been the king for a few years, but if there’s one rule on the Internet, it’s that nothing lasts forever. Unless you’re Google, apparently. I digress.

If you still want to use Facebook rather than be an early un-adopter and delete your account, I think it’s okay to do so, but you have to keep a few things in mind. You can’t just click everything that shows up on your screen.

Privacy Settings

Check your privacy settings every now and then. The safest method is to set everything on “Friends Only.” That mostly locks other people out, as far as viewing your photos and reading what you post.

Whenever Facebook introduces a new feature, new layout, or other big changes, it’s a good idea to re-check your privacy settings. In the past, “new look” usually meant “we changed all your settings back to the default, which is everybody in the universe can see everything you post.” A major update just came out, or is about to; I can’t even tell anymore. At any rate, check your settings regularly, just to make sure.

Regardless of settings, your name, location and profile photo are still visible, though. Keep that in mind. Also, if you use any “Facebook apps” (games, etc.), the publishers of those can also access your information. Which brings us to…

Applications/Games

Here’s the short version: just don’t do it. Farmville. Mafia Wars. Happy Aquarium. Farm Wars. Happy Mafia. Whatever. Just avoid them.

See, the problem with these applications is that they are created by third-party vendors, not Facebook itself. While Facebook has a privacy policy in place with regards to your information (bad PR pretty much forced their hand), these other companies might be a little more…free…with your info. It’s better to keep a tighter watch on who has your data.

Plus, these games are just a massive waste of time. You can’t tell me those hours wouldn’t be better spent away from your computer.

Other Things You Can Click On But Shouldn’t

It’s not all just apps and games on Facebook, either. There are always a million things showing up in your friends’ status feeds, often with accompanying links.

Here’s your first rule: there is no app that will tell you who has viewed your profile. It doesn’t exist. There are, however, scams that use this promise to give crooks access to your profile.

Here’s another one: any combination of words like “OMG,” “this really works,” “five things,” or scandalous videos depicting a celebrity currently huge with teenagers (Justin Beiber is the soup du jour), is not going to lead you to what it says it will lead you to. It’s called “likejacking,” and I’ve written about it before.

One more: your friend is not stranded in London, having been mugged. Someone has hacked his account and is trying to get you to wire money overseas.

Basically, if you’re using Facebook for anything beyond connecting with friends, you’re opening your information up to third parties. Some of them just want to advertise to you. Others want to steal from you.

Okay, it’s probably okay to “like” your favorite band’s official page in order to stay updated on new releases and tour dates. And it was funny when that pickle got more fans than Nickelback.

But, really, is all of this necessary? My goal would be to spend less time on Facebook, not more. I started using the Internet in 1995, and I’ll be honest: I’ve gained some weight over those 15 years. I can’t help but wonder if I’d be more fit now if I’d done more face-to-face social networking, and less BBQ-potato-chip-to-face social networking while sitting in front of a computer screen.

So Facebook is finally doing something about privacy concerns, probably.

I’m not posting any links to news stories here; this topic is all over the Internet. Check your favorite news website for details. There’s an article there somewhere, I promise.

Also, I don’t normally write a lot about privacy, but this is a hot issue, and I do believe that privacy and fraud prevention concerns are related.

A lot of people have been concerned about the privacy of their personal information on Facebook. It seems that, as the website has grown, more and more of your private details are available for viewing by other people, third party vendors and everyone else in the universe.

Of course, most people seem to be logging on to Facebook to complain about this, which is probably ironic, but still—it seems they might actually be listening, at long last. All those people threatening to quit the site (when you know as well as I do they have no intention of doing so) can relax a little bit.

The privacy settings on Facebook are famously complex. There are over a hundred options, I believe. Supposedly, the new setup with make it a lot easier to manage—I’ve heard of a single click to turn off access by third parties, which is good. I don’t care so much if friends of friends see a photo of me, but I care a lot about companies believing they should have unfettered access to my personal details.

Of course, the acid test will be whether or not these new features turn out to be a real change on the molecular level, or just lip service to privacy concerns. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been pretty cocky about this. Apparently, he believes that everyone wants everyone else in the world to be able to access information about them. I happen to believe that’s not true, and simply wanting to use a social networking site does not implicitly mean that a user wants some shady ringtone retailer (or Walmart, BP or Monsanto) to be able to mine their data.

A lot of us only want to connect with certain people and share our lives with them, and by “certain people” we do not mean “corporations” or “complete strangers.” Time will tell if these changes are the genuine article, or just more, “Facebook really cares about your privacy; that’s why we’ve allowed Cash4Gold to look at your entire profile and all your status updates.”