What are “online communications”?
The term “online communication” refers to reading, writing, and communication via networked computers. Online communication dates back to late 1960s, when U.S. researchers first developed protocols that allowed the sending and receiving of messages via computer. Online communication is a new phenomenon, having first come into existence toward the end of the 20th century. It is growing at one of the fastest rates of any new form of communication in human history, and its long-term impact is expected to be substantial.
What level of privacy can I expect in my online activity?
There are virtually no online activities or services that guarantee absolute privacy. Sometimes, however, an activity that appears to be private may not be.
Can online services track and record my activity?
Yes. It is possible to record virtually all online activities, including which newsgroups or files a subscriber accesses and which web sites are visited. This information can be collected by a subscriber’s own ISP and by web site operators.
What are Cookies?
When you “surf” the web, many web sites deposit data about your visit, called “cookies,” on your hard drive When you return to that site, the cookie data will reveal that you’ve been there before. The web site might offer you products or ads tailored to your interests, based on the contents of the cookie data.
Most cookies are used only by the web site that placed it on your computer. But some, called third-party cookies, communicate data about you to an advertising clearinghouse which in turn shares that data with other online marketers. Your web browser and some software products enable you to detect and delete cookies, including third-party cookies.
What are Web Bugs?
A web bug is a graphic in a web site or an “enhanced” e-mail message that enables a third party to monitor who is reading the page or message. The graphic may be a standard size image that is easily seen, or it may be a nearly invisible one-pixel graphic. The web bug can confirm when the message or web page is viewed and record the IP address of the viewer.
What is workplace monitoring?
It’s the employer’s practice of monitoring the Internet sites that an employee visits.
Can an online service access information stored in my computer without my knowledge?
Yes. Many of the commercial online services automatically download graphics and program upgrades to the user’s home computer. The subscriber is notified of these activities. But other intrusions are not so evident. News reports have documented that some services have admitted to both accidental and intentional prying into the memory of personal computers. Companies typically explain that they collect information such as users’ hardware, software and usage patterns to provide better customer service.
Can hackers get into my computer?
Yes. When you are using a broadband “always-on” service, you are particularly vulnerable to attacks by hackers. An increasing number of users are accessing the Internet via high-speed cable modems and telephone-based DSL connections. You most install a firewall device that monitors your network activity and allows only the activities you have authorized.
What is spyware and how can I know if it’s on my computer?
Spyware is any software or hardware device that reports your activity. “Adware” spyware is installed by software companies as an additional source of income. “Monitoring” spyware was originally intended for parents and employers to monitor computer activity, including file access and keystroke logging, to protect against improper usage by children and employees. “Diagnostic” spyware is used by software companies to log errors and usage habits to improve the next generation of software. The user is usually not aware that spyware has been installed.
What can I do to protect my privacy in cyberspace?
Create passwords with nonsensical combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, for example tY8%uX. Change your password often.
Assume that your online communications are not private unless you use encryption software. But most encryption programs are not user-friendly and can be inconvenient to use. If you do not use encryption, at least take the following precautions: Do not provide sensitive personal information (phone number, password, address, credit card number, Social Security number, your health information, date of birth, vacation dates, etc.) in chat rooms, forum postings, e-mail messages, or in your online biography.
Be cautious of “start-up” software that registers you as a product user and makes an initial connection to the service for you. Typically, these programs require you to provide financial account data or other personal information, and then upload this information automatically to the service. These programs may be able to access records in your computer without your knowledge. Contact the service for alternative subscription methods.
Check your browser’s cookie settings. We’ve come a long way from the days when browsers hid their cookie activity and gave users no options. Now you may accept or reject all cookies, or you may allow only those cookies generated by the website you are visiting. Be aware that when you use cookie management options, you might delete cookies for websites you trust. You may want to set a security level for trusted websites while blocking cookie activity for all others.
What is Encryption?
Encryption is a method of scrambling an e-mail message or file so that it is gibberish to anyone who does not know how to unscramble it. The privacy advantage of encryption is that anything encrypted is virtually inaccessible to anyone other than the designated recipient. Thus, private information may be encrypted and then transmitted, stored, or distributed without fear that it will be read by others. Strong encryption programs such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) are available online.
How programs such as PGP can protect your privacy?
How does PGP help you keep your secret keys secret? RSA secret and public keys must be hundreds of bits long and they are must be chosen randomly. This presents a problem. If PGP were to ask you, a human being, to remember your public key, it would be incontinent, because most human beings do not remember long strings of binary information well. You might write it down. This would be bad, because someone might do a black bag job on you. A black bag job is when a practical cryptoanalyst comes to your house when your are not there with a bunch of locksmithing tools in his black bag. He comes away with your secret key in his black bag. The other alternative would be to store your secret key in a computer file. But this risks someone doing a black bag job on your computer. PGP solves this dilemma by storing both your public and secret keys in computer files called keyrings. But, it stores your secret key encrypted with conventional encryption. Your secret key will be protected with a pass phrase which you must specify every time you wish to use your secret key. (When you decrypt a message or sign a message.) Hopefully, you will choose your pass phrase so that it will be easy for you, as a human being, to remember it.
What is Netiquette?
Netiquette is a set of rules for behaving and interacting properly online.