Friday, 6 July 2012

Snooping, sharing and shifting

Many offices around the world sent their employees an urgent message on 6 June: ‘Please change your LinkedIn password immediately’, as the news spread that millions of accounts of the professional networking website had been hacked. 

Nearly 6.5 million LinkedIn passwords ended up in the wrong hands and were posted on an online forum by cybercriminals. And it was not only LinkedIn that was a victim of a the latest data security breach; the online dating website eHarmoney also admitted that nearly 1.5 million of its passwords had been stolen and music website also suffered a major password leak. 

Although the three companies invalidated the embezzled passwords and they were quick to send out instructions to their affected customers telling them how to reset their accounts, the damage had been done. Analysts say it is not unlikely that criminals have scrutinised and copied millions of accounts and will try the same passwords – in combination with the corresponding usernames, usually email addresses – on other popular websites, such as Gmail, Hotmail, Twitter and Facebook. After all, many people use the same email address and password for a range of websites.

Who is snooping?
Obviously, it was not LinkedIn’s best month since the company launched 10 years ago. And the password leak sent shudders through the industry: if this can happen to such a big and popular website, who says it won’t happen to smaller, less well-protected players?

Experts, meanwhile, are convinced the internet is increasingly becoming a dangerous data jungle. Data is being copied, transmitted and passed on to advertisers, credit card details are being sold, twitter, hotmail and gmail accounts used to send round viruses and spam, while login details are publicly available online. 

Without trying to scare away the average internet user, many fraud experts do admit protecting your login details and other sensitive data has become more difficult than ever before in the history of the internet. The number of cyberattacks, tens of thousands each single day, are quickly increasing and, worryingly, consumers are mostly not even aware an attack has taken place or data has been stolen or shared without their consent. Mass hackings like the users of LinkedIn and eHarmony experienced at the beginning of June are rare and do make headlines, but many industry experts warn about all those smaller attacks you never hear about. Who is snooping, sharing and shifting is increasingly becoming one big blur. Keeping the same password for months on end has become a convenience one cannot longer afford.

Michiel Willems © 2012 CP Publishing Ltd. Picture: / Original Artist