About a month ago, gaming company Blizzard proposed the following change to their online forums: any post made by a user account would not use a character name, but a user’s real name. Now you need to know that on these gaming forums most people have used character names for years as they interacted with other users from around the world. As a result, this change was not taken lightly.
In other words, if I were to make a post on a forum with that system, the name of the poster wouldn’t be a character or account name, it would just be “Greg Bailey.” The idea was quickly reversed because of a fierce outcry from the community... but this attempt was still very relevant, not only for gamers, but for anyone who uses the Internet. Attaching a real name to an online identity makes it much less challenging to track down your real world identity.
It is very easy to find personal information using the Internet.
As with many other aspects of computing, the public has the misconception that to get information on a person something dramatic like hacking government computers is required. This is not the case, there are search engines that can find out any basic information on a person with simply a first and last name.
If you have more than that, like a state, it becomes that much easier. These engines can find personal information through various ways, but the easiest way by far to get personal details about a person’s life is by checking their Facebook page.
The Internet is a much more social place than it was fifteen, ten, or even five years ago. Hardly anyone had heard of giants like Facebook or Youtube five years ago, but both sites went through dramatic growth to become the powerhouses they are today. Today, people regularly upload information about themselves that they certainly would not have before sites like these existed.
When you post something online, it is not automatically encased in an impenetrable bubble that only people you know can access. It is very possible for a complete stranger to see what you post on sites like Facebook. If you post information that you would like to keep private, ensure that privacy settings on your account are set so that random people on the Internet cannot see your posts, friends, or other information you may not want to be made public.
Here is a very good ground rule for social networking sites: only post things you wouldn’t care about a stranger finding out. If you want to talk about something more private with a select group of friends, there are better places to do that than a social networking site.
Also, and this has just as much to do with common sense as security, avoid posts that you would not want to be tracked back to yourself in the real world. The Internet is full of horror stories regarding people who have posted something along the lines of “I hate my job/boss,” only to realize that they had added said boss as a friend whom could now read that post. There is no end to the embarrassment and awkwardness that could be avoided by simply taking a moment to consider if making a post is a good idea or not.
In addition to making sure your privacy settings are set up properly, another very easy thing you can do to keep yourself more secure is not automatically accept friend requests. If you receive a friend request from someone you do not know and cannot remember ever meeting or talking with, don’t accept the request just because they went to the same high school as you did. In addition, make sure you actually know the people who are already on your friends list.
Social networking sites are a great way to stay in contact with friends you might not be able to interact with otherwise. Just make sure that you’re keeping your privacy intact.
This article is the fourth in a series devoted to Internet security, and leaning how to keep you and your information safe.
Any questions, requests for clarifications, or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Bailey is a Computer Science major at UCR Bourns College of Engineering
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