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Source: Inquirer.net

Posted on January 13, 2008

      Many people share "secret" lives over the Internet, spending hours exchanging private information on social networks such as Friendster, Multiply, Facebook, Flickr, My Space, Frapper. Some people, in fact, have multiple accounts on each one of them, with at least one bearing truthful personal information.

      But like the heady rush of alcohol, it is so easy to let your guard down and lose composure in the pixilated microcosm of the World Wide Web. After all, when humans are transformed into thousands of pixels staring back at you from a 21-inch monitor, complete strangers will begin to look and even feel like long-lost friends. Seriously. Look around you. People who barely speak a word to each other at work, for instance, are engaged in swordplay or are busy exchanging high-fives online.

      "You tend to be more trustful of people on the Internet. But if you don't really know the person you should treat him/her as a stranger. Use your common sense as you would in the real world," said Phil Hickey, consumer product marketing manager, Symantec Asia-Pacific.

      He said when people begin to feel comfortable they become susceptible to foul play, such as identity theft and computer-virus attacks. Accounts in social networks have been used in some cases against a person's job application in the US. Suddenly, what seemed like a harmless game play between friends - hundreds of virtual "friends," in fact - became a serious yardstick for character judgment, and unfairly so.

      "Do not assume that what you put out there is safe," Hickey said.

      Identity theft, the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the US today, caused an estimated loss of $3.2 billion in 2004 alone. When hackers get hold of your personal data they can do practically anything they want to do with it - apply for loans, use your credit and, more recently, even use your health insurance. But that's the easy part. The toughest part is proving that the transaction was, in fact, fraudulent. The hacker conveniently disappears, and you are left with a huge debt and a damaged credit name.

      Hickey, who was in the country to launch the Norton Antivirus 2008 with Antispyware and the Norton Internet Security 2008, also cautioned against websites that ask if you want your password to be remembered.

      "It means that website is not encrypted, and anyone can see your personal detail and password. Never do that, especially if it's not your computer," he said. Remember, if you can travel the world from your home PC, you also allow the world to peek into your private life.

      Symantec offers some cyberspace myths everyday Joes and Janes should be wary of.

      The antivirus software is all you need. While antivirus does provide protection, having it installed in your hard drive will not suffice. Update the software regularly as new viruses emerge all the time. The more current your version, the better protection it can provide.

      A hacker does not have a vested interest in your PC. Your hard drive contains your personal data - resumés, bank details, credit card information, social security number. Your resumé alone is a wealth of information, with your address, telephone number, schools attended, work experience, etc. - exactly what a hacker needs to apply for credit card or loan.

      Hackers are only after the big industry players. Not true. Hackers, like the thieves that they are, look for easy prey. Big corporations invest heavily on IT, so the computers at your workplace are much harder to break. Broadband connections are much easier to infiltrate because the static, "always-on" IP address can be easily accessed. Turn off your home computer when you're not using it. You save money, and discourage hackers from getting into your files.

      It takes a real genius to hack computers. Google it online and you'll find a detailed, step-by-step info on how to hack computers. Hacking tools are readily available over the Net, and even explained in the simplest of terms for everyone to understand.

      Dial-up connection protects you from hackers. Using dial-up means your IP address is changing all the time, but a determined hacker could still break into your system and install a backdoor Trojan Horse that allows him to see each time you're online. And when they know you're online, you become just as vulnerable to hackers as broadband users.

      My Mac is invincible. A computer is a computer and frankly, a hacker couldn't care less what brand you use and the platforms that come with them. They just have to look for open ports. The new Macs are Unix-based as well, with hacking tools available on hand.

      The Norton Internet Security 2008 now features Identity Safe where personal data are encrypted, making transactions or browsing online a safer place."We now have a technology to say whether this is a genuine website," Hickey said.

      As for the social networks, remove all "sensitive" materials before sending out that application form. And use your real-world common sense, said Hickey. Do not accept invitations, virtual or real, from strangers. The last thing you want is a stranger stalking you. As in real life, such experience can be one of your worse nightmares.

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