We tend to think of identity theft as a crime perpetrated exclusively on stupid people. Sure, you don't fall for that Nigerian prince schtick and you don't send your login information to "official" emails that misspell "PayPal."
Well, you'd best take a slice of humble pie, because there are lots of things that you do every day, that you're probably doing right now, that are putting your personal information at risk. Things like ...
5Playing Facebook Games
After a long, hard day of playing Facebook games and pretending to work, there's nothing quite as relaxing as heading home to unwind and play Facebook games without pretending to work. It's an innocent exchange. You get a few hours of entertainment in turn for nothing more than your time and willingness to glance at a couple of ads.
"Before 'Farmville,' gin was the only thing that could get me through a day of work."
We've already discussed how Zynga, the operators of "Farmville," are evil masterminds. What we didn't tell you is how you're pretty much opening your entire life to them whenever you play. And, if you don't happen to use any of their games, you can rest assured that the same is true of virtually every app on Facebook. Last month, the security firm Symantec uncovered a security hole in the social network that gave third-party clients access to the entirety of a user's account.
But hey, 'Mafia Wars'!
And we don't just mean they could see all those pictures of you drunkenly fingering that elephant pinata at your cousin's birthday blowout. Facebook was accidentally leaking access tokens to advertisers, developers, every-damn-body. Theoretically, these tokens could give a third party the ability to post as you on your profile, as well as look through literally everything you've ever posted on Facebook. As many as 100,000 apps had tokens leaked to them over a period of years.
"What other social network are you going to use -- MySpace?"
It's not directly Facebook's fault, except where they've been completely negligent about what goes on on their servers. Most Facebook apps are developed by third parties that can basically hijack the service for whatever dubious purposes they like, as evidenced by the plague of Facebook app viruses that spread thanks to people's tendency to click on anything that looks vaguely like a picture of boobs.
"Tits? Hell yeah I'll let you have access to my hard drive."
"Can you believe Bill is flirting with Jane and Sarah? Let's try to sell penis enlargers to all of them."
4Using Public Wi-Fi
About one-fifth of Internet users have used a public Wi-Fi network, be it at Starbucks or an airport or any of thousands of other locations where people just can't bear to be out of contact with their Facebook wall. Most of those users probably weren't aware that they were putting everything from their email password to their PornHub account at the mercy of anyone who happened to be paying attention.
"Would you like a croissant or some identity theft with your coffee?"
And we literally do mean anyone. There's a program called Firesheep that allows the user to intercept your Wi-Fi connection and gather the cookies from whatever sites you visit. The cookies, of course, being the files containing the info that lets you automatically log into sites the next time you visit. Once they have those cookies, they can gain access to your accounts. The Internet's propensity to give everything a geeky nickname has dubbed this process "sidejacking."
The creators of Firesheep are adamant that they don't intend for anyone to actually use this freely distributed program, but wanted "to demonstrate just how serious this problem is." Which is kind of like building a doomsday device to save the world from doomsday devices.
"There. Now the world is safe."
A recent British study hired a security expert to find out just how easy it is to leech sensitive information out of the public airwaves, and the guy wound up breaking into the accounts of 350 people in one hour, each "sidejack" taking as little as five seconds.
Worse, the hacker doesn't even need to stick around to continue harvesting your passwords. Open Wi-Fi is like an orgy during a latex shortage. Much like governments ill-advisedly developing anthrax and rage viruses, one lab recently developed what they call "Typhoid" malware, which can surf the Wi-Fi networks and infect computers that are in proximity to each other.
Because the original typhoid was such a good time for everybody.