To help get a handle on the issues & risks, first let’s break them down
The online risks we face come in various shapes and sizes, but let’s try to outline some broad categories to help us manage the various Internet privacy issues & security risks.
Weak passwords are a major source of security breaches. Poor passwords are more easily cracked, even by novice hackers using tools widely available on the Internet. To make matters worse, if one of your account passwords is cracked, this can lead to your other accounts being compromised as well.
For example, once a hacker gains access to one of your accounts, he or she could gain access to a number of other passwords contained in confirmation emails or by making forgotten password requests at other sites, resetting passwords or obtaining instructions on how to create a new password. And once your account is hacked, the first thing the hacker will usually do is change the password, locking you out.
As aspects of people’s lives increasingly migrate online, it is becoming easier for big business, governments, hackers and other snoops to track in great detail your online activities, behavior and personal preferences.
Traditionally, this online tracking was done with cookies, small text files downloaded to and shared with your device from visiting a website. While these cookies helped the website identify you and learn about your earlier activities on the site, cookies can also track you across other websites.
Today, apart from traditional cookies, other means of tracking are widely used such as super cookies (cookies difficult to get rid of), flash cookies, beacons, as well as hidden third party elements (TPEs) embedded in websites and other sophisticated means of device fingerprinting. Taken together, these instruments can be used to track virtually everything you do online.
By matching, aggregating and cross-referencing individual pieces of your Internet activities – usually through the fingerprints you leave behind from your IP address (see the More About box below) – vast, accurate and potentially intrusive personalized profiles are being amassed about you.
It is a lucrative business to collect such information, build profiles and sell them to advertisers, other commercial organizations or anyone else interested in acquiring them. You have probably already noticed that websites display eerily accurate ads for products or services that you may have recently purchased or been researching.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg – tailored ads are only the most visible aspect that your profile is being used for. Your profile can just as easily be used to tailor website content, even prices, or be used for other nefarious purposes such as a secret screening tool for loan applications, insurance coverage, memberships or job applications.
More About: IP address – IP address stands for Internet Protocol address – a unique numerical label, such as 123.456.78.90, that identifies every device connected to the Internet at a given time. To see your IP address, visit our What’s My IP Address? page.
Malware is a term used to cover any threats emanating from software or apps that have been designed with a malicious intent. These include viruses, worms, Trojans, rootkits, adware and spyware. The lines between these variations of malicious programs are blurring all the time, so the comprehensive term malware will be used.
In one way or another, they are all intended to harm your devices, varying from the mildly annoying (freezing your display), to the troubling (tracking your activities) to the downright criminal (capturing your credit card or banking login details).
Unsecure Wireless Networks
As wireless Internet connections (Wi-Fi) become available almost everywhere, there is a real risk of sharing your connection with strangers. If the network you use (whether at home or elsewhere) or the devices you use are not set up properly, third parties may be able to access or piggy-back on your connection and devices, perhaps even launching attacks on other victims under your guise. Sophisticated hackers can take advantage of this, mining your wireless connection for banking information, passwords or other valuable data.
Scams and Frauds
Everyone thinks that they are too smart to become a victim of online fraud. But it really can happen to anyone. Nowadays, scammers use sophisticated technologies as well as old tricks to get at your money or personal information.
Crooks may use methods ranging from email, online ads, web browser pop-up windows, search page results to malware. Usually crooks try convincing a victim to transfer money or provide important information in a short time frame, sometimes wrapping it in an attractive proposal to make a quick buck or obtain some other benefit.
For example, scammers may offer you an attractive home-based job, discounted loan rate, “miracle” medicines or amazingly priced products. Other popular themes for scams include lotteries, investment schemes and online dating. Although some scams are simple and maybe even obvious, too many people fall victim to scams, even smart people such as you.
Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is when fraudsters send you emails that appear to be legitimate asking you to provide personal information, such as passwords or financial data.
A common tactic is that the phishing email says that there has been suspicious activity on your account and asks you to update and verify your details such as your name, address, birthdate, username, password, social security number, etc. If you fall for this bait the fraudsters will have the information they need to access your account.
Phishing attacks are not usually aimed at one particular person; rather they are conducted through mass email distributions. Spear phishing is targeted phishing applying a more sophisticated and tailored attack aimed at a specific individual, perhaps referring to you by name or referencing some recent activity you undertook, thus adding credibility to the message and increasing the likelihood of you taking the bait.
Spoofing is where a malicious website tries to pass itself off as a legitimate site – sometimes with a similar-looking website address and sign-in page – in an attempt to fool you into providing your username and passphrase, or perhaps even your credit card details, address, or other personal information.
Typically, an attacker sets up a false copy of a legitimate website to deceive you into entering your personal data or financial information. This is often, but not always done, to look like a login page. Spoofing is often used together with phishing: you receive a seemingly legitimate email that directs you to a seemingly legitimate website login page. Spoofing also exists offline too when, for example, fake banking machines are used to capture your banking PIN code.
Identity Theft (and “Doxing”)
- see our detailed section for more information about Identity Theft (and Doxing)
Millions of devices – especially laptops, tablets and smart phones – are stolen every year, often containing mountains of personal information.
Why should an identity thief go to all the trouble of trying to infiltrate your Internet connection or device with complex methods when he or she can simply steal your laptop, tablet or smartphone when you let your guard down at the local coffee shop?
Believe it or not, there are also less widely known privacy risks posed by photocopiers and printers as well as little spying devices called keyloggers that can be connected to your devices and used to monitor your activities.
Spam is usually associated with unsolicited commercial email, but spammers are now expanding their techniques to all corners of the Internet including the web, social media, chat rooms, torrent file-sharing and Usenet newsgroups. Spam is usually more annoying than dangerous unless it contains or transports malware, but even “harmless” spam wastes your time and bandwidth.
Much of our attention on Cogipas.com is focused on attacks on your privacy by big business, government, hackers, snoops and identity thieves.
However, there are far more potential adversaries out there that may be interested in your online activities or in accessing your devices for their own benefit or even to harm you. These people could include online trolls or predators, jilted lovers, ex-spouses, rival co-workers, ex-business partners, or any person who has a perceived grudge against you.
In addition, lawyers often advise clients or hire private investigators to collect emails, social media posts, transcripts of online chats, and smartphone messages as part of the preparations for legal proceedings (for example, employment claims, divorce or civil suits).
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Even this brief outline should illustrate that it is not all smooth sailing on the Internet. But don’t despair! You can address and lessen all of these risks with the information you will find here on Cogipas.com.
Use the Search This Website box at upper-right in the menu to target what you are looking for, check out our Site Map or read the related, recommended links below.
- All Your Activities are Being Tracked and Profiled
- Top 10 Essential Internet Privacy Tips
- Advanced Privacy Protection and Online Anonymity Tips