Web Users Complacent Over Identity Theft Risks


An alarming number of web users are risking identify theft because of their poor online behaviour

A worrying number of Internet users are overly complacent about posting personal or potentially sensitive data online, according to new research by Internet security specialist BullGuard.

When questioned about various information stored on social networking sites, forums, groups and other interactive services, 42 percent of 2,000 consumers surveyed admitted to posting their date of birth, 18 percent posted their telephone number, 28 percent opted to have usernames and passwords remembered, and 14 percent did the same for bank details.

When questioned specifically about social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, 36 percent admitted to posting their pets’ names on public pages, 24 percent shared children’s names, 7 percent their address, and 11 percent showed off photos of high-value goods such as a car or TV.

Social Networking Perils

Worse still, over a third of Facebook and Twitter users admit to updating their profile to inform people that they are away for the weekend or going on holiday, thereby potentially alerting their absence to thieves.

Opportunistic malicious parties often find such sources to be prime targets for gathering information on users, and without sufficient security measures in place this makes it all too easy to gather personal details that could make an individual more vulnerable to attack.

“Though this sort of information may seem harmless to share with others, much of it is commonly used as security questions when accessing an online bank or confirming identity over the phone,” says Claus Villumsen, Internet security expert at BullGuard. “It’s also a bad idea to publicise the fact that you will be away for any period of time, especially if the house will then be empty, as this just gives more information to would-be thieves as to your whereabouts.”

Part of the appeal of social networking is obviously the ability to share information to stimulate conversation and build a “personality” online, but this is something that malicious users are also aware of, making it an attractive way to build up a profile on an individual. Though excessive caution may take the fun out of such activities, a number of simple safeguards can be used to help ensure that users don’t become a target.

Online Safeguards

BullGuard recommends a list of safeguards to help ensure that sociable web users can enjoy an online experience without being at risk, including never accepting friend requests from people you don’t know, or who aren’t easily identifiable from associations with other friends, as well as spending some time learning about the security measures available on sites like Facebook, and ensuring that posts and photos aren’t available to everyone.

The company also recommends stripping out any personal details from a profile that don’t really need to be there – for example, pets’ names, addresses, maiden name and date of birth.

“This is particularly important if you use services that request this sort of information to confirm your identity, have been used as a security question in the event of a password being forgotten or are used to log into a website,” said Villumsen. “Ensure that any passwords used for important sites or services bear no clear relation to any hobbies or interests you may have, as a would-be thief may try common words linked to these subjects when attempting to guess a password.”

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