Reflections on theft and protection of online identity on the Internet – Who are you?

Reflections on theft and protection of online identity on the Internet – Who are you?
Posted March 22, 2012 – translated today. Pardon the lousy grammar but I got lazy and ran it through Google Translate and just sorted out the worst errors 🙂

Background
I read today an article in a swedish newspaper about a man who has been exposed to someone determined to demonize him online and began to think about the issues from a larger perspective. The more we live our lives on the Internet the more important these questions will become and there is absolutely no indication that we would be using the Internet less in the future, the trend is the opposite.

What I want to point out is some thoughts on what might be consequences of getting their identity stolen or that someone deliberately want to harm one such as partners from an old relationship , competitors of your company, just generally evil persons etc.

Free social media sites and Google index

There are lots and lots of  free services on the Internet such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google +, Blogger, Linkedin etc. just to name a few common ones.

Many of these sites in turn are indexed by various search engines where Google undoubtedly is the biggest, but certainly not the only one. Many of these search engines also  index each other in various ways..

The more places  a link appears and ha any connections with for instance your name or company brand, the more such Google is to “rank” it and you get higher positions in Google. It is not all true that this is how it works from a purely technical perspective (there are more parameters such as  relevance, etc.) but you can probably generate quite a bit of Google positioning just keeping that in mind.
On all these social media pages, you can set up custom profiles , blogs, upload pictures, have a chat, etc. and you can basically do it in any name as long as it is not already registered.

Suppose that someone starts taking a closer look at all of theses social media sites to see where stuff is registered  and to top it all, start to registering stuff  in YOUR name or YOUR COMPANY name.
He or she is sure to also get them posted in various search engine indexes to speed up the process for the search engines to give the registered sites attention.
If he or she is a bit knowledgeable about IT (to be stereotyped, I suspect most dedicated evil hacker personas are most likely to be men / boys) and she or he also understands the importance of hiding so he uses the example various free email services and other techniques to stay hidden and under the radar.

He makes sure to only surf to the pages he created, and the email services, he uses through anonymization and across different proxy functions such as TOR and other anonymoizing services . Anything to keep as hidden as possible. The old truth that all can be traced through an IP address is not really that simple as you might think when you read the newspapers. It can be done yes but it takes lots and lots of resources, warrants, knowledge and time. Even if you’re NSA or Echelon.

He could even register domains in your name for free via for instance Mydomain.com. In this way he has full control over your domain name also like www.yourcompanyname.com.eller www.yourfirstnameyourlastname.com

All  together, all of these links and pages gives the search engines that what this person is doing is relevant and legitimate and belongs to the name he is posing to be , In essence, he becomes you online since all searches on you or your company name will actually show the stuff that he’s written , not the stuff you’ve actually written or the public image you want to display,

It may not be the end of the world for many and you might think that it is possible always to press charges and stuff.

The police does not have the resources to prioritize these issues yet but I’m sure that will change i the future as these problem will accelerate.

The actual implications and effects In Real Life

The result could be that if you’re looking for a new job and your prospective employers “Googles”  you, it will show up blogs, pages, posts your name and perhaps not at all with opinions you stand for, or there has been uploaded pictures of you to contexts you do not want to be seen in. All of your loved ones who are looking for online can get a very distorted picture of who and what you really are.

A hard working, mildly knowledgable IT person ( doesn’t even have to be very skilled, just focused and determined really ) with a little bit of time on their hands  can completely destroy someone’s reputation online with little methodical work behind it if they really want.

For many, it may not be so important in their everyday lives, as it would hurt them “only online” but, as I would suggest it may have consequences in real life too and it’s at that point things start to get really nasty.
I think most people share my view that the Internet will become an increasingly important part of our lives, even in comparison to what it is today, people need to start thinking ahead now so they do not notice if a few years to their name and company name out used anywhere. For instance , I have two lovely goddaughters and I must say I’m terrified at the idea of someone actually wanting to harm them this way and start slandering them or posting nude pictures of others claiming to be them, posting heir cell phone number to perverts and .. ah.. well.. you get the picture. . The problem is that once something hits the Internet and it’s posted strategically, it will stay there for a long long time and could come back to harm you in years to come.

An example of directly nasty things can be the pages eg hanging out criminals with names, addresses and social security numbers. I don’t take a stand for or against the phenomena in this post in that particular issue, but would like to point out precisely the risk that if it is you who have been portrayed there, and you’re actually innocent to whatever youäre accused of. What impact would it have on your life?

Some things, unfortunately are impossible to guard against , for example, people start ordering all kinds of commercial catalogues to your home, pizza, put you mail address  up on all sorts of mailing lists etc.

Ok. I think you get where I’m driving at , right ?

What to do about it?

There is no such thing as 100% reliable protection against this. No. Sadly. Sorry.  Never has been and never will be  but there are a few things you can do in order to prevent some of it at least.

!. Sit down and ponder on what are the big social medias nowadays and what impact do they have? . There’s a few suggestions on the number, but feel free to ask if you’re curious, I can help with some suggestions. Actually, do this about twice a year at least since these things can shift quite rapidly.

2nd Get your own accounts on the relevant pages so you don’t give the opportunity to those who want to steal your identity. For your business, register different channels so your brand at least can not be stolen so easily on sites such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Flckr, WordPress, Linkedin etc. Take a day to think about things or ask an IT consultant for help.

2nd Set up Google Analytics and Google Alerts and track which keywords lead to your site, from where the searches comes and from where they were referred to your site. There may be good information in there if something starts to behave strangely and an early warning system that something’s up. You probably might not want searches to your page with search terms  in Google such as “racist your name” which I’ve seen happen

4th Be consistent with the email addresses you use and for what purpose. If anyone starts searching for you and find weird posts in forums linked a mail address, that way you can try and state anyway that its not your mail address and theses are ones you only use (and you an prove it by pointing to old posts in forums and stuff and mail conversation logs) . Someones registered a Windows live mail address in your name or something.

5th Keep Googling yourself regularly and keep an eye. For instance, I’ve got a rather unusual name and when I Googled me, I’m namesake with a slightly scandalous politician in Malmö. For those who do not know me personally, etc. they could impossibly know if I lived in Malmö or if I’ve ever been politically active. The consequence may be that if I went looking for jobs and the recruiter quickly looking at me, gets these hits on my namesake and doesn’t  take the time to find out which one of us is whom, the recruiter will probably be fast in moving my application to bottom of the pile.
Trust me, I’ve done it myself. If you’ve got 200 applications for a job position and one of them “could” be potential problem , I’ll move on down the pile , not taking the time to investigate further since I’m sure there’s at least 10 other candidates that fit the bill but without these possible warnings signs. Nobody wants a potentially tangled employee.
Or worse perhaps even, a new, future partner. Everyone Googles each other theses days when they’re like teenagers in love. That’s  the background check for the boyffriend / girlfriend position of the 2000s and depending on what he / she fins on Google, it could be a deal breaker.

5th Set up as Google on Alerts in your own name, your company name and your products / services to get an email as soon as I find something new with the search terms you’ve entered, it could be a hint that something is going on if your name or brand suddenly begins to appear in places where you have not been. I have added my name in this post and about half an hour after I published it, I will get an alert  in my mailbox with an email stating that my name appeared somewhere on the net and I get a direct link to it was ” popped up. ”

6th If you have a business. For God’s sake, register your domain name. Several reasons. It always looks very clumsy, stupid and cheap to have with companies that yourname@telia.com or @gmail.com addresses. A domain will cost a dollars a year only. If your business changes or is sold, hold on to the old domain name in a few years, and forward mail to the new one. Have auto replies that tells people you’ve renamed, moved or basically anything except to use just free email services.

7th A little more general advice is, just like always. Use firewalls, update the operating system, Adobe Acrobat, Java. Flash and so forth. Everything needs to be updated and not just once. It should always be updated. The reason I believe it has a place in this post is just that if someone manages to plant a virus in your computer and record your password and username so they can the course be coma enormously damaging if they have access to the pages where the indeed active.

7th Do not use the same password everywhere. If any bad guys will your passwords in one place can the he she reuse it everywhere. I’ve written a few examples earlier on how to remember complex passwords actually. Here’s a few links on tha

http://www.chicagonow.com/listing-toward-forty/2012/08/list-5-information-security-basics/

http://jufflan.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/remembering-complex-online-passwords/

8th. Remember that everything is connected nowadays. Everything. In one way or antoher. What you do on one site can have a ripple effect on 50 others. That can be a good thing but also a curse. Just remember what you’re doing online, If you’re up to no good or want to do .. shadowy stuff , use aliases on the net. Don’t use your own name or mail address or anything that resembles it even.

9th Be active on various forums and social media sites, keeping control of your own Google ranking. Use your name and mail address or website wherever possible to post, giving Google the chance to connect your own posts with the stuff you want to be associated with, not what the evil ones want. You might want to be a bit careful with the mail address though since you open yourself up for loads  and loads of SPAM ..

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and I’d love to get feedback on it .. and all my other posts as well of course :

Juha Jurvanen

see what I did there ? 🙂

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