Informational Security

How many people, knowing your full name and the city and state in which you live, could get your home number and street address? How many organizations have that street address? How much need do they truly have for it? If they do not provide a service directly at your home (a utility, pest control, lawn service) they probably don’t really need it, although they’ll ask for it. Get a mail drop address that looks like a regular street address by going to a business like Mailboxes Etc. Anyone going to that address with ill intent will find themselves unable to do anything more than send you mail, unless they happen to be there when you go by to get your mail.

When you must give out your street address, have them mail any correspondence to the mail drop, and ask if they can put a security code on your account so that nobody else can call and get any information without knowing that code. I know BellSouth will do this. You can use slight variations of your name on other utility bills, or in some cases people put them in someone else’s name entirely (with that person’s agreement, of course).

How easy is it to get your phone number? Even if it is unlisted, if you’ve given it to every business that’s ever asked for it you’ll get far more calls, marketing and otherwise. If you actually want the number to be private, control its distribution. For instance, don’t provide it to those web sites that ask for it unless you really want to hear back from those particular people by telephone. Harassing phone calls can be very unnerving even though they can’t really harm you physically, and there are just too many ways for someone to call you repeatedly and stay completely untraceable. If you need to make a number publicly available—say, for a group in which you’re an officer, or to register at EBay—get a free one from a service like Onebox. You might still get harassing calls there, but the caller can’t disturb you or your family in the middle of the night or find out where you work—and it’s simple to change such numbers.

Regarding EBay, I believe it to be so insecure that it deserves special mention. Many people have EBay user names even if they never intend to buy or sell anything—just for browsing purposes. How closely, though, did you read the information presented when you created your account? Are you aware that EBay will provide your contact information to any other registered EBay user who asks, whether you are involved in any sort of transaction with that person or not? You will receive an email stating that the user requested and received the information, and you will get the contact information that person gave EBay—but since EBay doesn’t verify anyone’s contact information, there’s no reason to expect that the other person’s contact information will be valid. While I can see EBay releasing contact information to people who are involved in transactions with each other, I find their current practices to be ridiculous, and will not be doing business with them. The fact that they provide an address to which you can complain if you feel that your contact information has been used improperly is quite useless. If you insist on using EBay, I strongly suggest that you use a drop-box address (NOT your home or business address), and a phone number at Onebox or a similar service that is not important to you. I would, in fact, suggest that you also use an email address and user name that you do not use anywhere else and that would not be easily guessable by anyone who was looking for information about you.

Do not make your place of employment public knowledge on the net if that knowledge would permit people to find you physically. Saying you work for Microsoft is probably fairly safe—they have so many employees in so many offices that it would be difficult to track you down. If, however, you’ve also said that you live in X city and work in Y department of Microsoft, you’ve just made yourself physically available to an attacker again. Saying you work the late shift and are frequently the last person leaving Danny’s Donuts in Podunk, Michigan is asking to be mugged.

Do not put your street address on your driver’s license, auto tag registration, or voter’s registration. (I’m not suggesting that you break the law—there are ways, at least in Georgia, to do this legally.) How many people check that license on a regular basis for ID? Do they need to know where you live? Some counties don’t check to see if the address you’ve given for voter registration is truly a residential address, so if you’re in the same voting district you should be able to give them that mail drop address. I’ve never had the state patrol question the address that appears on my driver’s license, which is that of my mail drop. Same goes for the address on my vehicle registration. While it is more difficult to get someone’s name and address from a tag number now than it once was, it is still doable. And voter registration rolls are public record—as are, I just learned, all the information provided if you serve on any jury.

You might as well go ahead and put a news flash out to the world regarding any information you have printed on your checks—too many people see those checks to give out any information you don’t want public, and anything on them is likely to be entered into databases at credit reporting and similar agencies that will then be made available to anybody who really wants to get to it. Make sure there’s nothing there that would be problematic if it were publicly available. Places like Checks in the Mail will print pretty much anything you want on your checks, so the address there doesn’t have to match the one you actually give your bank (although to be honorable it should be a valid address of some sort).

If you have children, do not ever give the name of the schools they attend on the net. Do not give out or mention any specific information that would permit someone to find your child ("well, we go to Dance Dance in SuburbA on Tuesdays for Susie’s ballet class, and the teacher is very good"). If your children use the net without your supervision, make sure they understand and follow the same rules.

Does all that seem ridiculous? Tell me, if someone did start stalking you, would you want them to be able to locate you and your children easily? Once information is released it can never be "recaptured" so to speak. It’s easier to be careful with information in the first place than to move to a new home.

Last updated 10/27/00

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