AOL security breach puts Web on notice
More than 600,000 users had their search queries posted online. Some individuals can be identified.
(Page 2 of 2)
The challenges hardly mean that society will retreat from the digital age. The trend, indeed, has been toward more online exposure of identity, not less. In the past year, MySpace.com has exploded in Web-traffic rankings as a venue for people to publicize themselves and connect with potentially millions of others.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Experts generally say that society is getting benefits from the technology that far outweigh the damage done by security gaps.
"Some of us yearn for the pioneer days [without computers], but I'm not sure how many of us do," says Stuart Madnick, a computer expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management in Cambridge.
He uses the analogy of electricity. The grid sometimes goes dark, but when it's on, people have services such as air conditioning and television that weren't available 100 years ago.
"We just need to do a much better job" at managing the risks that go along with networked computing, he says.
Often problems crop up because of outsiders – hackers often use e-mail to send viruses that take over other computers.
But an important lesson, Dr. Madnick says, is that serious problems also stem from insiders at corporations or agencies who either accidentally leave information vaults "unlocked" or who maliciously embezzle data.
Among the many solutions, one is to improve internal checks and balances in organizations, so that it's hard for any individual to single- handedly cause a major breach.
It's clear that as computer crime grows, so does the cost of combating it.
People can buy a personal computer for $500, but using it to surf the Web at home is risky without security software that is continuously updated, at a cost of $30 a year or more.
At work, the cubicle set is having to change passwords more often. In the federal government, $4.5 billion of the $65 billion spent annually on information technology now goes for security, a Bush administration budget official said recently.
The good news, Madnick says, is that society is starting to wake up to the challenge. "We're going through ... a slow cultural change," he says. "The awareness aspect is rising."
*• Don't share personal information. When shopping online, verify site security.
• Be wary of free software, file-sharing, and e-mail attachments.
• Use and update anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and install a firewall.
• Use complex passwords and keep them secret. Back up important files.
• If your computer is hacked or infected by a virus, disconnect it and scan with anti-virus software. Alert your Internet Service Provider and the FBI. Report Internet fraud to the FTC.
• Consider anonymous browsing options such as Anonymizer.com, or a portable flash drive from Stealth Ideas. But don't count on any system to ensure total privacy. Be careful what you post in an online biography.
– OnGuardOnline.gov, CNET, and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse