How Can Someone Get Private Information From My Computer?

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From the "Ask Booster" column in the June 17, 2005 issue of Booster's Auction News, a free ezine for online auction sellers and enthusiasts.

Dear Booster,

How can someone get private information from my computer?

Thank you,

Evan S.
Minnesota U.S.A.

Dear Evan,

Hackers can get your private information from your computer in a number of ways. Here are the top ways they do it:

* Computer viruses, spyware and adware from e-mails you've received and/or websites you've visited.

* Hacker programs that find unprotected IP addresses are subject to attack. An IP address is a series of several numbers (ex. that identifies your location on the internet. It's like your "internet" telephone number.

* Entering your financial information (i.e., credit card info) into a website that does not offer secure order processing. Your internet browser should show you that you've entered a secure site.

* Having your financial information "intercepted" by a hacker while shopping online at a legitimate website. This is called "pharming" and is becoming a more worrisome threat.

* You downloaded software from that contained a malicious program.

* You fall victim to a "phishing" or "spoof" scam, whereby you GIVE your personal information away.

* Phishing and spoof e-mails appear as if they are coming from a legitimate website. The e-mail generally alarms the recipient with a message such as "your account has been suspended" or telling you that you need to "verify your account." Most eBay and PayPal users have received at least one (if not several more) spoof e-mails appearing to come from either eBay or PayPal.

eBay has information showing you how to spot spoof. I highly recommend your take a few moments and visit for this brief tutorial.

* Another growing threat is called "malware" which is a spyware. Malware is a malicious software which logs your keystrokes and forwards the information to a hacker. This type of software can come through viruses and is often included in downloaded applications.

Knowing how to protect yourself can greatly reduce your risk of identity theft. Following are some suggestions to help you protect yourself. The programs listed below are just a few of the many options available.

* Use an anti-virus software such as Norton AntiVirus ( or McAfee AntiVirus ( and regularly UPDATE it. Updating is absolutely CRITICAL if you want the software to protect you. For thorough spyware and adware scanning, popular software choices are Spy Sweeper ( and SpyCop (

* Using a firewall software such as Zone Alarm (, Norton Personal Firewall ( or McAfee Firewall (

This is a good option for dial-up modem users. Why? Dial-up modems are slower, so a firewall software will often see the attack coming and prevent it. Most hackers don't like the slowness of a dial-up because they can't easily get in and out of your computer without being detected. It is also critical that your firewall software be REGULARLY UPDATED!

* Those accessing the internet with broadband (i.e., DSL, cable modem, etc.) need the added protection of a firewall hardware such as a Linksys Router (, NetGear Router ( or DLink Router ( The reason why is because the speed is higher on broadband which allows the hacker quicker access into your computer without being detected. The router is what will be "on the internet" versus your computer. Since the router is not a computer, there is nothing for the hackers to attack (i.e., no hard drive, no processor, etc.). The router simply acts as a "bodyguard" that only allows those with permission to come in.

* In the event that you unintentionally "bring in" a hacker (as explained above) or you had the misfortune of being the victim of a very clever hacker, it's still smart to have a firewall software (in addition to firewall hardware) to make it difficult for the hacker to "exit" with your data.

If you want to check the vulnerability of your machine for free, visit the well-respected GRC's Shields Up website at This website will attempt to break into your computer in order to expose vulnerabilities. Click on the individual options (i.e., file sharing, common ports, etc.) for a vulnerability analysis.

Keeping up-to-date with internet scams is also helpful in keeping your private information safe. Here are just a few reference websites you may want to bookmark for future reference:

* Scam Busters:

* Anti-Spam Help & Advice Website:

* AuctionBytes Online Fraud Discussion Forum:

* Internet Fraud Complaint Center:

* Anti-Phishing Working Group:

* Microsoft - Help Safeguard Your Personal Information Online:

Lastly, check out the Better Business Bureau & Javelin Strategy's ID Quiz to see how safe you are from identity theft:

Great question, Evan. Thanks!

Wet kisses & tail wags,

Booster is a free information website for online auction sellers and enthusiasts. publishes a free opt-in ezine called "Booster's Auction News" every Friday. Subscribers of this newsletter are automatically entered each month in Booster's Monthly Prize Drawing featuring valuable prizes geared towards online auction sellers.

Booster's Auction News is written by Angela Saul, webmaster of Angela has been selling on eBay and other online auction sites for more than five years. - The FUN Internet Destination for Online Auction Sellers & Enthusiasts!

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