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Online Security And Privacy Basics For 2016, Part I

An overview of privacy and security basics

Life Without The Internet?

Can you imagine daily life without the Internet? It has revolutionized, on a global scale, how we work, shop and communicate with friends and family.OWDT has posted previous Insights articles about Internet privacy and security–but I’d like to begin the New Year with an overview of privacy and security basics that virtually everyone needs to understand.

Maintaining Privacy And Security

Privacy is the control and proper management of the person’s data to prevent accidental release of private information. Security entails the protection of data from unauthorized access. Both are related, critical issues not only for the Internet but also for all web-related business activities. The omission of either can lead to devastating consequences, as credit card and identity theft.


Organizational Responsibility

Internet privacy is contingent on the degree of consumer protection individual websites accord their users, their personal information in particular. This includes informing users about the specific personal data gathered and how this information will be used.

Research confirms that a significant number of sites gather information via a wide array of sources–among them surveys, mailing lists and online registration for the purpose of selling that information to other parties. Resulting problems have generated a solid consensus that organizations need to provide reasonable user security and privacy protection. Much depends, of course, on the level of sensitivity and currency of the information gathered. Another key variable is the cost of reducing security vulnerabilities.

Assessing Risk

Before launching a site, an organization needs to assess its potential vulnerability. This can be accomplished through risks analysis, reducing the amount of information gathered and stored, as well as exploring different security strategies. In addition, organizations need to train their employees on security maintenance tasks–with clearly defined accountability for individuals at different levels of management. Finally, organizations should only secure the services of reputable, high-quality service providers with demonstrated security maintenance capability and excellent customer support.

Cookies And Data Mining

Improvements in database technology, data mining, in particular, compound this overall challenge because user data submitted online can easily be combined with customer records. We are familiar with how sites use cookies to track users–requiring that we regularly schedule scans to remove cookies and potential malware. This kind of tracking is difficult to avoid when we’re asked so frequently to submit our email address, geographic location, personal demographic data (like age and gender) and product preferences. Cookies are sent to the hard drive for subsequent browser retrieval when websites are revisited. Servers can then use the data to create web pages that meet the interests and preferences of the user, potentially for malicious purposes.

Identity Theft

Unfortunately, many websites continue to do all this without our consent–in some cases tracking the movement of users from one location to another. A much more direct threat is the potential for hackers to gain illegal access to supposedly secure information like credit card numbers. This is the leading cause of online fraud. Identity theft is the worst nightmare of all…

In my second installment, I’ll focus on general strategies for dealing with these challenges, with emphasis on privacy legislation, self-regulation, and message/browser encryption.


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