The Complete Guide to Internet Privacy

Jim Aspinwall provides a complete guide to internet privacy, including internet connection basics, staying updated, protecting children online and family ISPs.

| October/November 2000

Learn all you need to know in this guide to internet privacy.

The internet may not be a "frontier" anymore, however it can still be a wild place in the ways and mean we computer users may use it . . . and be used by it. The technologies, like the pathways of commerce, are new, and for the time being there are few laws regulating your online security and privacy. As with any huge gathering of people, the vast majority of the internet is composed of fair-minded citizens and good clean enjoyment, but a certain percentage is at least questionable, if not immoral or illegal. Learn how to stay safe in this guide to internet privacy.

You may have heard of the disastrous consequences of having your identity stolen" by an individual who uses your social security number and/or credit card number to purchase items, grab government benefits and commit other crimes. This is a consideration you must keep in mind when you use the Net because privacy violations, the dissemination of personally identifiable information, unwanted e-mail, viruses and e-commerce abuse are only going to get worse before they get better. Even though many Internet service providers (ISPs), the government and participating companies are doing a lot to help make the Internet a safer place, it's still largely up to us to protect ourselves in the web wilderness.

Internet Connection Basics

When you connect to the Internet with a standard modem, you become one of millions of relatively anonymous dial-up customers accessing the Net via thousands of ISPs around the world. Your PC is assigned a temporary host name and (IP) address more or less at random by your ISP. This information does not pertain to you personally, but to your computer hardware as a part of Internet communications technology, and it stays with you only as long as you're online.

No one can anticipate when you will dial up to get online, nor can they track down your individual system because it is not personally identifiable. When you log off, you're truly off the Net. Because of this random nature, traditional dial-up offers a degree of security. With most "always-on" (Digital Subscriber Line [DSL] and cable) connections, you usually have one or two permanent IP addresses and host names that identify your specific computer — thus, your electronic door is always open.

Chances are your Internet connection is funneled through an ISP that offers little or no protection to the computers connected through it. Like it or not, your PC just becomes another vulnerable host on the Internet. This is your first point of concern, because you are responsible for your own protection. As Steve Gibson of Gibson Research puts it, "When you are connected to the Internet, the Internet is also connected to you."

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