Q & A: Expectations of Privacy, Security and Etiquette in Cyberspace

  1. What are “online communications”?

The term “online communication” refers to reading, writing and communication via networked devices.

  1. What level of privacy can I expect in my online activity?

I like to say, “none.” The exceptions are data you send using standard internet security such as “https” or SSL (secure socket layer) technology. Programs that encrypt your data are also available. Outside industry accepted security features, assume someone can see anything you place online even if you later remove it.

  1. Can online services track and record my activity?

Yes they can. Internet service providers associate your account with a specific IP address. They can see all the IP addresses and site names you visited. Their servers can track any web page you request. Internet Cafes can track all web pages requested also but do not have the name of the specific user because they permit guest or anonymous logins.

  1. What are Cookies?

Cookies are small programs, usually text files sent to you from a website you visited. They usually contain some user information about what pages or items on their site were of interest to you. Credit/debit card information should  never be stored in cookies. They usually have an expiration date where the cookie becomes invalid after a set amount of time.

  1. What are Web Bugs?

Web bugs or tracking bugs are embedded objects usually invisible to the user that allows the sender to check if the reader viewed a web page or email.  What usually happens is that the reader/user will open a page or email and the web bug will request an image of some type to be downloaded from a server. The server will then track/record this activity.

  1. What is workplace monitoring?

Workplace monitoring is a practice where an employer uses cameras, audio monitors, phone and computer monitors to watch over employees and presumably protect the company’s interests.  Many of these practices are legal, and some are not. There are ongoing lawsuits by employees who feel the company has infringed on their reasonable expectation of privacy.

  1. Can an online service access information stored in my computer without my knowledge?

The short answer is “yes they can.” When you request a page or file from the internet, it is possible that you will be sent some computer code or file that you did not expect or want.  Most often this practice is illegal and not done by legitimate companies. However, as mentioned before, the use of “cookies” is a generally accepted way of companies being able to better serve a customer and their use often goes unnoticed unless you block them.

  1. Can hackers get into my computer?

Again, the answer is yes. Quite often you fill see news stories about high security government computers being compromised by hackers. Stay current with all operating system updates and use of strong passwords and virus protection programs can minimize this risk.

  1. What is spyware and how can I know if it’s on my computer?

Spyware is a type of malicious software (malware) installed on your computer without your knowledge or consent. It will attempt to collect data from you such as account information, passwords and even keystrokes. Good anti-malware programs run frequently on your computer should help you detect their presence. One free program that can be downloaded for free is called Malwarebytes.

  1. What can I do to protect my privacy in cyberspace?

There are several things you can do. Have all anti-virus and anti-malware programs current and run frequently. Use strong passwords and change them regularly.  Avoid websites that are known for sending undesirable files to you such as porn and gambling sites. Sites that originate from outside the U.S. are more susceptible to misuse.  Make sure any financial information is only used with a secure website.

  1. What is Encryption?

Encryption is a way to scramble text, audio or video so that it becomes useless without knowing the key to restore the file to it’s original state.

  1. How programs such as PGP can protect your privacy?

PGP stands for “Pretty Good Privacy”. It is a program that can encrypt and decrypt emails and other files so that only you and those whom you designate can read/use them. PGP provides the user with a private and public key. Together they will be used to scramble and descramble emails or files so that they cannot be used or read by anyone else but you and those you wish to read/use them.

  1. What is Netiquette?

Netiquette is a term used to describe generally acceptable ways to communicate to others using the internet. It covers how you should act and treat others in online communications to be considered socially decent. An example is to never type in all capital letters or the reader will assume you are shouting at them. Another example would be refraining from using fowl language on a bulletin board service or chat room unless doing so is a well established norm.

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