Monday, June 08, 2009
Into the Mystic, and On Into Cyberspace
This was the earworm in my head all day yesterday. I don't know why. There was a full moon last night. Perhaps that's explanation enough. I'd have preferred the original Van Morrison cover; couldn't find one. Oh, well.
Here's what's on my mind today.
You've probably seen these little doohickeys before. It's just a simple little widget thing you can make from the site listed. Some people like to put them on their Web sites for whatever reason. I think they just do it to be cute -- unless they're mean, and then they do it to scare people. Don't freak, though. All you can see is your own information, and all anyone viewing the site can see is their own information. Nobody else's. It does give one pause, though.
Don't be lulled into complacency by such harmless little banners and widgets, however. While they are completely benign, your private information is available to the operators of the sites you visit. Some of this data is available via "stat counters." I use those myself to keep track of Web traffic (not that I have much time any more to actually glance at them). They provide such information as IP numbers, approximate city of origin, and what pages the visitor viewed. It's amazing to me the number of people who have no clue that their computers broadcast their Internet Protocol addresses and other personal, possibly identifying, information to every site they visit.
I find stat counters helpful if I get a troll onboard, or am besieged by a relentless spammer. I've never been hacked (knock on wood), but I have been -- I don't know, I guess the word for it is "spoofed." In other words, I've had people create fake (and wildly obnoxious!) blogs using my name and such personal information as they had access to. Stat counters were very useful in those situations because these morons bragged about it elsewhere, their IP numbers were captured, the site owners traded information with me, and I was able to pinpoint who did it. The trackers won't tell you the offender's name, of course, but it will give you enough identifying information to have some small sense of who it is if you know you've had a problem with someone from a particular region. More importantly to me, it provides me with an IP number to ban from my sites. Blogger needs to provide a banning function to us, because I know a lot of bloggers get spammed and trolled every day and have no recourse other than to take their blogs private.
There are much more sophisticated tracking programs than stat counters out there, though, and some of those can be downright scary -- especially in the hands of those of a criminal bent. I've even heard rumors of a new software coming that will be able to take one teensy piece of information about you and use it to track down articles, posts, etc., you may have posted years ago; in effect, creating an online dossier on you. Clearly, there's no such thing as anonymity on the Web any more, but I fail to see any legitimate need for that kind of Big Brotherish software. It's bad enough that government agencies have license to flag key words from private citizens' e-mails. Give the criminal element the ability to do much the same thing and I foresee nothing but trouble.
In addition to good anti-virus software and strong firewalls (which can still be breached if some creep is relentless enough), you can (for now, anyway) avoid the worst of such dangers as phishing, pharming, and evil twin attacks by purchasing anonymizing software. Trouble is, the criminal element also benefits by using software that camouflages their real IP numbers and other identifying data.
Nobody wants to cut their Internet connection, so ... be careful out there!