Posts Tagged ‘internet’

So you think you’re a careful Internet user?

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Photo of girl on phoneThese days it’s hard for us to avoid doing certain tasks online. Even if you prefer to receive you bills and statements manually, buy items in person on the High Street and don’t use Social Media, many of us will use a computer to browse the Internet and use Email.

So how much of the data we enter on our computers, or even fill out in coupons, can find its way into the Public domain? The answer is, more than you probably think!

Let’s think about an average day for our Virtual user, let’s call her Stacey. Stacey gets up in the morning and the first thing she does is check her Facebook page and respond to a friend’s photo taken last night. Most Social network sites will register your GPS co-ordinates when you post or even take a photo on your mobile phone, so that gives a pretty accurate idea of where Stacey’s friend was last night and where Stacey is this morning. As she always checks her Facebook page when she wakes up, that builds up a regular location and so without knowing Stacey’s address, we could assume that she lives at that location as she adds a post from there first thing most mornings.

Stacey makes her way to work. On the bus, she checks her personal emails. There’s an email in from a shop she goes to regularly. She has a loyalty card with them (which means they will know what products she purchases and when) and they are offering a chance to win a product she really likes. She enters the competition on line, giving her address and date of birth. She doesn’t check the box to deny access to this information from 3rd parties, so she’s probably now going to receive lots of other related offers either through the post or via email.

She gets to work and logs on to her computer and starts work. It’s a busy morning and the time flies by! At lunchtime she needs to check details of an order she placed recently with a mail order company. She tries to log in emailbut can’t remember her password, so gets a reminder sent to her personal, free email account. To do that, she has to enter her secret questions – date of birth and Mothers Maiden name. That’s right, it was her usual password. Uh, oh! One password for everything? Plus using 2 pieces of information that are commonly used to prove identity for Banking?

OK, so we would like to think that all companies treat their customers data as top secret , and the majority do, but we hear of cases where information does get in to the wrong hands occasionally. Try not to use the same password all the time, or have something that is too personal (date of birth, name of your house, favourite team) and don’t be afraid to lie if asked for the information and it’s not for a genuine identification purpose like a Bank, Inland Revenue or DVLA where it will be used to cross reference with other databases.

Stacey notices that in her email web portal she is seeing adverts relating to blue prom dresses. That’s strange, she was only looking at those last night on the web! It’s not a coincidence. Most free services such as Gmail and Yahoo are free because the companies are getting paid by the advertisers, and not just for space. Although personal identification details don’t get sold, they will pass on details of searches you carry out, phrases or words mentioned in your emails and websites you visit. This allows them to tailor the adverts you see to things supposedly relevant to you.

Lunch hour over, it’s back to work. Stacey takes the opportunity to update her Linked In page with some updated employment and education details and updates her contact information with her new mobile number. Although Linked In is a business networking site, it’s still posting personal information that’s available for all to see. Plus, there’s a lovely photo on there that she’s really proud of. Looks very professional (and now everyone can put a face to the name, email address and phone number!)

drinksAfter work, Stacey is catching up with some friends for a drink. They keep in touch via Social media about where they will meet and what time.

During the evening they all post comments and photos on Social media. Again, it’s advertising where they are and what they are doing. Looks like it’s going to be a long night… wonder if there’s anyone else at home??

So, should we pull down the shutters, bolt the doors and never venture into the virtual world again? Is it all full of crooks and villains just waiting to grab the first bit of information we put in the public domain? In reality, no, but it’s wise to be careful and think about what you are posting and where.

For example, taking a nice photo of your house and secluded back garden and posting on Facebook, at the same time as mentioning your up and coming 2 week family holiday, is not to be recommended!

As mentioned before, try to avoid using personal details where they are not required for proper identification purposes and read the small print carefully when filling out forms, both online and on paper (as they will just get entered onto a computer somewhere too eventually!)

Finally, check the privacy settings on your social media accounts to make sure that details are only shown to those you want to see them rather than being open to all.


Do you know what you’re downloading?

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

We all download software, tools and utilities from the Internet. Maybe you need to do something as a one-off, want to trial some software or find a free tool that might be useful.

But do you know exactly what you are downloading and where it is coming from?  Is the site reputable?  Are there other things that might be included in your download apart from the particular item you require?

There are a few hints and tips you can use to check your downloads are not going to catch you out!

Check the reputation of the site

Use a free web browser security tool such as McAfee SiteAdvisor which will stop you inadvertently going to a site known for viruses, spam, malware and other nasties.  As well as blocking known dodgy sites it will also display symbols next to your search results showing which links are safe to follow and which you should treat with caution.

What are you downloading?

It’s easy to get distracted by the wonderful advertising and wording on some sites.  If you are downloading something which is supposed to be free, be wary of entering any payment details or too much personal information.  You may find yourself subscribing to a service you don’t want and which is difficult to cancel.  Sometimes you can find yourself following 2 or 3 links before you finally think you’ve found your download link only to find it’s for something else, so double check before clicking the download button.

Check the small print

Read through the license agreements and any small print before clicking the ‘Agree’ button.  Check what any information you enter will be used for and the license terms for the software or downloads.  There are lots of things which can be downloaded and used for personal use but not for commercial purposes for example.

Only install what you need

When you’ve found your file, on a reputable site, and it’s been downloaded you may think you’re home and dry, but there are still some things to look out for.  Read the installation instructions carefully.  Watch out for tick boxes that relate to other items such as unrelated toolbars, security products and search tools.  These items are generally not related to the software you are installing and can use up resources on the PC.


If there is a piece of software or a utility that you want and it’s not available free of charge then you are unlikely to find a copy or a key code on the Internet.  There are crack-sites out there offering serial numbers or free downloads of games and software but normally all you’ll end up with are viruses, malware and spam.  Most software manufacturers are wise to the trade in illegitimate software and keycodes.  Most applications need to be authenticated online before they will work and once the key has been used once or twice it won’t work again without speaking to the manufacturer and providing proof of purchase.

On the plus side there are lots of open source and free applications available to download from reputable websites and as long as you take care over which sites you visit and what you download then have fun experimenting with some new applications!