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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    High Tech Realm

    Back in 2004, when MySpace first gained popularity with my classmates, I remember seeing my friends’ MySpaces and thinking to myself, “Okay, so what exactly is the purpose of having a publically visible, ad-infested page with information about you?”

    Unfortunately, within two weeks of initially hearing about MySpace, I caved in to my friend’s requests and created a page. Heck, I even created a second MySpace page soon after to promote a series of viral videos I helped produce.

    Of course, after creating my MySpace pages, I told a bunch of my friends to join so I could add them to the “Top 8” on both pages. Despite my initial apprehension towards the service, the video MySpace page made my videos so popular that my friends and I were recognized when we hung out in Huntington Village, a major hangout spot for students in most of the school districts nearby.

    Still, despite the publicity gained from the service, I always questioned the purpose of such a system, where the user views pages which blast heavy metal without warning, have enough “You have won!!!” banner ads to cause seizures, profile backgrounds showing off Glocks and AKs, and other variants of digital trash.

    Basically, MySpace was (and still is) the vomit of the Internet. Two years later, I discovered Facebook, and soon after creating an account, I was finally able to enjoy social networking without having a hypocritical love/hate relationship with the service.

    Still, while Facebook is primarily for socializing, it also happens to be an essential tool for protecting your identity. According to a recent report published by security firm Aladdin (http://www.aladdin.com), “Attack Intelligence? Research Center Annual Threat Report 2008 Overview and 2009 Predictions,” social networks are now essential to protecting your identity.

    According to the report, the large amounts of user information on social web sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn (linkedin.com), have made it easier to impersonate and/or falsely represent people and businesses via the Internet. Aladdin refers to this threat as “web identity hijacking.”

    Despite the simplicity of web identity hijacking, the report lists it under their “Key Predictions for 2009,” meaning it has yet to become common. Despite this bit of relief, an article from ReadWriteWeb titled “Fake Social Network Profiles: a New Form of Identity Theft in 2009” mentions the Lori Drew case, in which a mother created a MySpace page to pose as a boy the victim (a rival of Drew’s daughter) had a crush on. The bullying ultimately caused the 13-year-old victim to commit suicide.

    While there is no way to completely control what is said about you on the Internet, there are a few simple steps you can use to protect your identity.

    The first step is to set up a search alert for your full name. For example, many search engines such as Google allow you to set alerts for when specific terms are added to their database. Due to their size and status as the number one search provider, Google is a must for any alert; however Yahoo and MSN also have similar features in place.

    Google’s alert page can be found at http://www.google.com/alerts. To set up an alert for your name, you simply enter your full name and then complete the rest of the form.

    While this technique will alert you to many mentions of your name in cyberspace, it’s important to note that should someone defame you, in most cases there are few practical options for legal recourse.

    If someone is committing crimes such as impersonation, however, then you have more options, as long as the criminal is not offshore (which is very rare for cybercrimes).

    While it’s helpful to know what is being said about you in cyberspace, it’s even better to be the one spreading information about yourself. With the rise of discount domain retailers such as GoDaddy.com, having a domain name is a must in the modem world.

    In particular though, it’s best to reserve the .com (or .net, .org) version(s) of your name. For example, if your name is Joe Smith, you would reserve the name JoeSmith.com. On that web site, you could put your resume, a personal blog, links to your social networks, and so on. Just make sure the site is professional because in today’s day and age, you basically are what a Google of your name turns up.

    Employers are increasingly using Google to run background checks on employees, and in most cases, they base their decisions on the top 10 results provided by Google.

    On a related note, Radu Sion, a computer security professor at Stony Brook University, suggests creating a central hub for your digital identity where you publicize the fact you don’t use any services/sites other than the ones mentioned on that page/site.

    After building your personal website it’s important to get your name out in cyberspace. While Facebook is a must for anyone’s social profile, getting a LinkedIn is essential for anyone who plans to get a job, now or in the future.

    LinkedIn is essentially the business equivalent of Facebook. Even if you don’t presently have a job, getting a LinkedIn is a must because it allows you to build business connections and also “sell yourself” to employers. Still, you must be over 18 to create or have a LinkedIn.

    Creating a LinkedIn is basically the same as creating a Facebook, however, it’s important to remember LinkedIn is for business so it’s always a huge plus if you act professionally on the service.

    While “getting your name out” sounds like a lot of work, Radu also suggested “parking” your identity on various Internet services. In other words, it’s a good idea to register accounts related to your name on various services, and you either fill them, or leave them empty. Regardless of your actions, “parking” the name makes it harder for someone to impersonate you on that service.

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