It would be quite a nasty shock if debt collectors turned up on your doostep demanding settlement of arrears on a loan you knew nothing about and producing a court document authorising them to take away your stuff if payment was not forthcoming. It has happened to some people.
Now most of us think those badly written letters from ridiculously named gentlemen in West Africa, such as Mr. Chuckawamba Segodo who recently wrote to me, are a bit of a laugh. Very few people are naive enough to send provide the bank details Mr. Segodo needs in order to pay millions of pounds into the accounts of people who respond to him, but many of us will be tempted to send off a jokey reply.
Any reply you send will contain enough information in the file header to enabe cyber criminals to install on your computer a trojan horse malware program which will open the back door (one of the 64,000 logical ports on your network interface) throgh whick spyware can be installed. The favourite spyware used by criminals are key loggers. These log every keystroke to a temporary file and next time you start your machine a record of everything you have done is sent to a data centre, located we dare to hope, in the magma chamber of an extinct volcano. Be warned, these cyber criminals may appear to be hellbent on world domination but they are nowhere near as charming as your average Bond villain. Any you may have unwitthingly given them enough information to open bank accounts, buy property, take out loans and start fraudulent companies in your name.
Maxing out your cedit cards after stealing your card number is small stuff by comparison.
My friends may have gained the impression I am no great fan of the World Wide Web. Too right Im bloody not. At its inception the www inherited from its forbears a number of insecurities. That did not matter on the old networks because every user needed an account number and password and those were not issued until the user had been authenticated, usually by the organisation they worked for. Many people have said many times the problems with the web all stem from the fact it was never designed for the uses it is being put to. It was not fit for purpose because nobody could predict what purpose it would have to be fit for.
Sadly, in the years the web has existed, none of the problems have been properly addressed simply because it would not be in the interests of Microsoft and a few other big players to start fixing them.
(People who get tetchy when I attack free enterprise here should remember that the web, with its thriving market in kiddie porn, its cacophony of inane chatter, expanding trade in the tools of cyber crime, climate of bullying and the dumbing down effect it is having on the young, is the ultimate product of unbridled free enterprise.) The webs popularity was built on the ridiculous notion that we would all get rich by being part of a community where everything was free. The second economic bubble (surely the greatest ever triumph of hope over experience) to be infalted by the hot air from this fallacy is now in the process of imploding. No big names hve gone yet simply because their backers cannot be seen to have made the same mistake twice in les than a decade.
To get back to our point about identity theft though, the frustrating thing is nobody needs to be a victim. A little common sense and a few simple actions will safeguard you.
First look at your Internet settings from Control Panel and make sure you have set the computer to Delete Temporary Internet Files. This file is where key loggers will store the information to be transmitted so by getting rid of the files at the end of every session you stop your data from leaving your computer.
Having done that, a couple of free dowloads will help a lot. Win Patrol is a free program that works by warning you if anybody is trying to change your startup procedures to run a malware program each time you start the computer.
Asquared free is a monitor that works rather like anti virus software in that it scans incoming data or files on your hard drive for known Trojans, worms and netbots. Be careful when exploring the site, emisoft do not make the free download easy to find, but it is worth the effort.
Between Win Patrol and this you will have enhanced security a lot.
Now a few common sense rules.
(1) If you have not asked for it you do not want it
(2) When a message tells you the latest version of Flash player is needed to view a file be suspicious. Genuine web developers will always take care to ensure their web pages are accessible to a wide audience. Genuine flash players are fine but cyber criminals push cracked versions into which all sorts of nasties have been added.
(3) You dont need Quick Time. Much as I dislike Microsoft, Windows Media Player is an excellent piece of software and will render most popular filetypes to your screen.
(4) When somebody you do not know is keed to do you a big favour, ask yourself why.
All these things are ruses to get past your firewall. Yes, you say, I want to load a new flash player. And WHAMMY, you have invited a hacker right past all your security.
So online indentity theft need not be the ogre some people suggest. Remember, there ae fortunes to be made out of selling the kind of information I have just given you.