Thursday, April 07, 2005

Opening eyes to hackers

Pretty wide ranging issues for a short article. But here are the main strands of thought.

1. Data Protection. As anyone with a decent knowledge of technology can tell you, your computer is normally a huge repositary of data unless certain measures are taken. When you delete an item, the data is not destroyed totally. With easily available data recovery software (visit, alot of old files that you might not want others to view can be recovered and the use of data very damaging. The only way really is to format the entire hard drive if you want to ensure that the data is beyond recovery. But as this would wipe out all your data on your harddisk, this is best reserved for massive infestations of viruses, spyware and worms or if you simply don't need it anymore. For most part, there are softwares that would emulate this function and are generally good enough to prevent recovery.

This is particular pertinent for companies where various studies and experiments (US and Britain) have lead to the recovery of sensitive corporate materials like research data and client files from used harddisks and laptops. In fact this has become a favourite source of material for many a corporate spy. So the next time you toss out a harddisk and it isn't due to hardware failure, do format it if you have any data you wish to protect.

2. Identity theft. One of the problems is that with the right data, it can be very damaging to your credit rating if not your personal life. It would surprise many to know that the auto-complete function and many a 'cookies' contain data about your passwords and credit card numbers if you do online shopping. The danger of identity theft in Singapore has generally been restricted to lost ICs being used to borrow huge sums from loansharks which are then not returned. The innocent party is then harassed to no end unless they can persuade the loansharks that this was indeed a mistake of identity. But there have been recent news of identity spoofing and credit fraud being committed as well.

What is nerve wrecking however, is the thought that hackers could potentially gain access to your personal data. As long as the database is connected to the Internet, it is theoretically possible to hack into it and obtain information, see the LexisNexis fiasco one of the examples in the article.

BUT that is a pretty low probability situation. HOWEVER the real threat is that of spyware, adware and trojans. Some very nasty pieces of software have the capacity to steal your personal data (like passwords and credit card numbers) either by fooling you into entering them (phishing) or simply gaining access to your computer's data (trojans are a popular way) or by recording everything you type (key loggers) or by simply monitoring all your online activity (many cookies). So it isn't simply a matter of lower output or a general computer slowdown, it can be much more than that.

3. Identity cards and numbers. It might surprise local readers than the use of such numbers and cards are not a norm. In fact, everytime this issue is raised in Britian, the Home Minister is heckled. The last time they tried, it got eventually struck down. Even in the US with its social security number, the data is not kept very personal and not divulged the way our NRIC is in the papers. In fact, in nations like Germany and Hungary, the concept of an NRIC is unconstitutional. This idea, based upon the concept of privacy, that the government should have no business knowing all the information on your IC (your address?!!!). This concept is however pretty alien to Singaporeans. In fact, the whole debate is pretty much incomprehensible to us.

End of the day, have an anti-virus software and make sure it has anti-spyware capabilities. Include a firewall so that no one can come snooping into your computer. And clean out your computer regularly! My personal favourites are Ad-Aware SE Personal, Spybot - Search and Destroy, Zone Alarm and Avast! Anti-Virus. All absolutely free and all available at

So please do your part and help prevent the spread of such malicious software via the net.



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