Internet Users Posting Info that Helps Cyber-Crooks

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-08-20

Internet users are overly complacent about posting personal or potentially sensitive data online, providing cyber-criminals with a wealth of information that could be used for identity theft or hijacking accounts, according to a recent BullGuard survey.

In a survey of 2,000 British Internet users, approximately 42 percent posted their date of birth and 18 percent their phone number, Bullguard said in its latest survey, released Aug. 15. When questioned specifically about Facebook and Twitter usage, 35 percent admitted to posting their pets' names online, 24 percent shared children's names, and 7 percent shared their address.

"Though this sort of information may seem harmless to share with others, much of it is commonly used as security questions when accessing an online bank or confirming identity over the phone," said Claus Villumsen, an internet security expert at BullGuard.

BullGuard recommended stripping out any personal details from a social networking profile, forum membership, or other services that "don't really need to be there." Information that can be used to answer security questions or confirm identity on Websites, such as pets' names, mother's maiden name and date of birth should not be posted online.

Posting hobbies and interests on these sites is an integral part of establishing a "personality online," according to BullGuard, and is part of making the online experience more enjoyable and relevant. As a result, passwords should not have any clear relation to any hobbies or interests, as thieves can try using that information to guess a password.

When questioned about the information stored on "interactive services," about 28 percent opted to have usernames and passwords remembered, and 14 percent did the same for banking information, the survey found. Users should avoid storing sensitive information this way or saved in an e-mail or as a document, BullGuard said. "It may serve as a handy reminder, but could be disastrous if it were to fall into the wrong hands," the company said.

About a fifth of the respondents, of 11 percent, showed off photos of high-end goods they'd purchased. Combined with the fact that over a third of users on Facebook and Twitter update their profiles to inform people they are going away on a holiday or a trip, the users are setting themselves up to old-fashioned home burglary, BullGuard found.

"It's also a bad idea to publicize the fact that you will be away for any period of time," Villumsen said.

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