Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's A Wired, Wired World

By Pat Browning
My new computer came with Windows 7 and Word 2003. I'm struggling with them both. I wondered about using my old disks to install Windows XP Home and Word 2000, both of them user-friendly.
I consulted the FAQs from the site of Leo Notenboom, who sends out a newsletter answering computer questions from clueless people like me. I learned that using the old disks is not a good idea, but I think my problem with Windows 7 might be that I took the 64 bit option. That could be why I get notices of “incompatibility,” why Windows just stops running in some web programs, and why my printer balks.

According to Leo:
“Virtual machines might actually be an answer! Windows 7 is already coming with a ‘Windows XP mode’, which as I understand it is nothing more than Microsoft's own virtual machine technology running Windows XP within Windows 7. If you do have an application that is for whatever reason problematic in 64 bits, running it in a 32 bit virtual machine might (I do have to stress might) be a viable solution.”

Well, that blows me backwards. Obviously, I need to call in a real computer expert to look over this system. My TV, computer and telephone land line are all hooked into the same modem. Yikes! Talk about a wired, wired world.

Notenboom has a collection of columns that are free for reprinting and distribution. I chose one about the ease of tracing people through e-mail addresses, and protecting your identity on social networking sites. Here it is.
Can you be traced by your e-mail address?
By Leo Notenboom
When you communicate with people or post online, chances are you don't think twice about sharing your email address. But should you? Is there a way your phone number and address can be tracked by someone who only has your email address?
The short answer is yes. It could be very easy for you to be found by just your email address... or it could be quite difficult. Exactly how difficult it might be depends on three things: how you've used your email address, what information you've put in public places, and whether or not you've broken the law.
You can test the security of your email address by searching for it on the internet. Most search engines don't let you search for your exact email address, as they treat "@" and "." as spaces, but it's still a good place to start (especially if your email address is unique). Now realize that everything your search just returned can just as easily be found by anyone trying to track you down.
The worst case scenario would be a standard "name and address" listing, which includes your name, email address, physical address and phone number. If this information has been posted online (by you or someone else) then absolutely anyone can find you with a quick and easy search.
If someone is trying to track you down it's more than likely they already know several other things about you in addition to your email address. They probably know your name and at least your general location. Add those two bits of information and your tracker has even more to go on.
When it comes to protecting yourself social networking sites are often overlooked. And it's not just Myspace and Facebook -- it's other niche sites as well. With any of the information above (usually name and city are enough), there is often a lot of information available to the public. Try this: log out of any social media sites you are a member of, search for yourself by just name and city and see what information is available to anyone about you now.
If you have a fairly unique email address or perhaps unique handle for logging into some sites, people might not only find out where you live, but perhaps also view pictures of you, learn where you work or go to school, and see what sites you've visited recently. And they can do it in about 5 minutes. A more dedicated searcher could find even more.
The real concern is not what people can find, but rather how easy you've made it for them to find it. So what can you do?
Use a "throw-away" email address when doing things like placing ads or using any public site where the contact could eventually lead to meeting new people, or people wanting to find you for some reason. This throw-away address should be completely unique, unrelated to you, and should be created with completely fake information. That way at least the casual searchers will find very little from just that email address.
But what do you do about the not-so-casual searchers?
If you've broken the law even a throw-away email address may not be bullet proof.
Just like IP address tracing, it is possible that in the course of investigating a crime, authorities could use a court order to get additional information from the email service you've used for your throw-away account. They can get the IP address or other information about the computer or location from which the account was created, and they could potentially use it to locate you. It's not something that's taken lightly, but if crime warrants it, it is certainly possible.
The bottom line? Be aware that your email address may not provide you with the anonymity you think; used in conjunction with other readily available information much can be discovered about you. When it's important, risky or otherwise prudent make sure to take steps to appropriately anonymize the trail back to the real you.
Get more free tech help and advice from Leo Notenboom by visiting
With over 30 years of industry experience, including an 18 year career as a software engineer with Microsoft, Leo gives real answers to real questions from ordinary computer users at Ask Leo! Subscribe to Leo's weekly newsletter now and receive a free ebook: "Internet Safety - Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet", a collection of steps, tools and concepts you need to know to keep your computer and your information safe.
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And speaking of social networks, will it surprise you to know that divorce lawyers do their research on Facebook? I found a fascinating article on about that very subject.

Before the explosion of social media, Ken Altshuler, a divorce lawyer in Maine, dug up dirt on his client's spouses the old-fashioned way: with private investigators and subpoenas. Now the first place his team checks for evidence is Facebook.
Consider a recent story of a female client in her 30s, who came to Altshuler seeking a divorce from husband. She claimed her husband, an alcoholic, was drinking again. The husband denied it. It was her word against his word, Altshuler says, until a mutual friend of the couple stumbled across Facebook photos of the husband drinking beer at a party a few weeks earlier.
It was the kind of "gotcha moment" Altshuler knew would undermine the husband's credibility in court. His firm presented the photos to the judge, and the wife won the case in April, he said.
You can read the whole story at:


Mark W. Danielson said...

I had to laugh at your new computer operating system, Pat. I'm with you -- stay with what you know. Thankfully, my old computer is still running fine, but one day I'll have to resort to a new one and go through the same frustrations.

As for identity theft, nearly every author has a public web site and e-mail because we want people to find us we just hope they are honest. About the only real solution is to join Life Lock.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I always use my pseudonym and wrong birth date online. It's pretty unnerving to know that people can track you down from information on the Internet. I've noticed quite a few people listing their addresses and phone numbers in their signatures. And even telling everyone on Facebook when they're leaving on vacation. I assume they think burglars don't have Facebook accounts.