Why be paranoid? This is why.

You copy an email to somebody you don’t know well, or an email to you is copied to someone you don’t know. Perhaps someone who doesn’t like you much, or dislikes something you said.

Next thing you know that person, using nothing more than your email header or address, is able to learn all about you — where you live, what you drive, your marital details, your life’s embarrassments, what you do, who your kids are, their names, where they go to school, what they look like, who your friends are, your pet’s names, your hobbies, where you went on vacation last year, you private proclivities, your Social Security number, and much more.

Here’s how it’s done. And this is the easy stuff, the stuff you can do for free in a few minutes. There are much more powerful tools than what this article shows.

Note what happened in that article: Some guy (the author) got an email he didn’t want from a fellow named Steve Nicholas. So, in a fit of spite and with a bit of specialty knowledge, he outed Mr. Nicholas’ most private details all over the Internet. If the writer had had more of a motive than to make an example of the hapless NicholasĀ  — if he’d had true nefarious intent — he could have done much more: steal his bank accounts, steal his identity, destroy his reputation, set him up and get him busted for child porn. That last one is a doozie and it’s remarkably easy to do with just a bit of info.

Want to know why I’m paranoid? That’s why I’m paranoid. And why you should be too.

Does that stuff really happen? “You betcha.” [Is that trademarked now?] Happens all the time to both the mighty (Google execs, Sarah Palin) and the lowly (the now-infamous Mr. Nicholas).

The Professional Paranoid’s Rule #1: Safe computing means paranoid computing. Believe it.

So: What to do? Besides common sense and all the usual tips (shred your trash, don’t divulge passwords, etc.) there are two things that are very seldom mentioned, are cheap or free, and either of which would have completely prevented what happened to Mr. Nicholas. I’ll post those in a future blog.

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