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Week of 30 August 2002 · Vol. VI, No. 1
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I've heard of numerous accounts of identification theft. How can I better protect myself online?

"Excellent question!" says Nicholas Pinheiro, associate computer analyst and consultant for University Relations. "With the consistent growth of the Internet and the rise of e-commerce, identification and credit card theft have reached an all-time high. It is up to us as consumers to protect ourselves and our information within cyberspace and beyond. Unfortunately, we aren't always aware of the various procedures and protocols currently in use to secure all transactions of information via the Web. Here are a few things to look out for when surfing the Web to ensure you remain theft-free.

"The first and most important thing to look for as you decide whether to enter your personal information on a Web site is if the site is utilizing SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL is a protocol that most vendors use for secure order forms. With SSL, the secure server will actually contain two keys - a private key and a public key. When you enter your information, the public key encrypts your information by using advanced algorithms that only the private key will be able to decrypt. Servers implementing SSL are usually simple to spot. For example, the address of the page will start with https rather than http. The final s stands for secure and means that the page is protected; anything you send can be read only by the owner of the site.
When using Internet Explorer, you will see a key at the bottom of the browser that also indicates the page is secure; on different versions and on Netscape browsers, you will see a locked padlock.

"Another important issue to consider when in cyberspace is how current your Web browser is. Even if you have one of the latest browsers, such as Internet Explorer 6 or Netscape 6.2, it is still important to visit the developer sites to keep your browser up to date. As browsers are released, a number
of glitches are found that require certain fixes, or patches. At times the faults within the software may allow hackers or other highly computer-savvy individuals to get their hands on your information. Therefore, it is extremely important to update your software monthly with all patches that have been released. Microsoft has an excellent turnaround time in fixing any faults found in their software. All updates for Internet Explorer can be found at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.

"Ever wonder how your e-mail box gets cluttered with things you never signed up for? Many companies sell information entered on their site to other companies in the same trade. These companies then market their products and services directly to you via e-mail or postal mail. When deciding whether to enter your information on a site, take a few moments to read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, usually found as a link at the bottom of the page. Companies are required by law to supply this information, so it doesn't hurt to take a few seconds to read it before telling them your life story. Most important, if you do not see this information listed anywhere on the site, you may want to think twice about doing business with the company.

"One final option to consider when dealing with purchasing online involves the various services credit card companies are offering for secure purchasing. For example, Citibank has just released its Virtual Account Number, one of the latest advances to curb online credit card fraud. With this new technology, once you reach the checkout page of any online store, the Citibank applet pops up. Enter your user name and password, and a card number will be randomly generated to replace your actual card number. This number can never be used again and is completely valid for your transaction.

"Stay secure - and happy surfing!"

"Ask the Bridge" welcomes readers' questions. E-mail bridge@bu.edu or write to "Ask the Bridge," 10 Lenox Street, Brookline, MA 02446.

       

30 August 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations