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Hubbub over hackers isn't justified

Sept. 29, 1996


Can a computer hacker electronically erase your identity, steal your credit card numbers, sell your house and ruin your life because of your use of the Internet?

After all, it happened in the Sandra Bullock thriller, ``The Net'' and art does imitate life, right?

Well, not exactly.

The recent furor raised by privacy advocates was about a company that offered information on people -- much like that found and sold by credit bureaus and the like -- and that included credit information and social security numbers.

With your social security number, an individual could fake your identity and use your credit to obtain bogus credit cards -- and quickly make life very difficult and potential expensive with potentially thousands of dollars in credit card charges.

It could happen. But it is no more likely to happen than if you never use the Net.

Information is available about consumers on the Net; it is used for transactions by Lexis/Nexis and other firms that compile and sell this information. They've been doing it for years.

A little common sense goes a long way to prevent being a victim of credit fraud.

Safeguard your social security number regardless of what type of transaction or form you are filling out. Never give it out unless you are absolutely sure of the person's identity. If you have doubts, ask more questions about why it is needed.

When using the Net, don't e-mail your credit information to anyone. Even if it's a valid company and sale, it can be forwarded to another person with a few clicks of a mouse.

If you're using a credit card for a purchase on the World Wide Web, see if the retailer uses a secure server. There are a number of protocols, and the Netscape secure server system offers a good measure of security.

Many Web sites ask you to register when accessing their sites, often asking for information about your spending habits, etc. If you're uncomfortable with giving out this information, don't do it.

Many Web retailers also take orders by phone or fax, which keeps your data off the Internet. You may want to use FirstVirtual or some other cybercash bank for purchases. These firms let you keep your information off the Net and still make on-line purchases.

Fraud on the Net isn't running rampant as some would suggest. As Jack Rickard, editor of Boardwatch magazine has said in the past, credit card transactions are only as secure as the person who fills out the final credit card slip -- despite all the high-tech widgets invented to provide security, there's usually someone who manually must deal with the purchase information, and says Rickard, lies the biggest opportunity for credit card fraud.

HOW MANY COLORS? If you're using an older PC or Macintosh to surf the Web, chances are you may be losing out some on what you can see.

Until my recent computer accident, my PC was using the standard VGA mode in Windows with 16 colors.

And it worked well; but high-resolution photographs often looked muddy or lost much of their color and detail. At some Web sites, the text was difficult to read because of the lack of contrast due to the color limitations.

But with my new computer equipment I also added a new 64-bit PCI bus video card -- which is computer talk for ``much-improved video and graphics.''

The unfortunate part is I could've upgraded my video long ago; it was well worth the money, since surfing the Web is a visual experience. The lesson learned? Don't skip on your video card and monitor!

Now I've got my eye on new 21-inch monitor that would make a wonderful Christmas gift...

EXTRA! EXTRA! If you recently chose InfiNet for your Internet service, you may well have seen the all-new News-Enterprise Online site on the World Wide Web.

The newspaper has had a Web site in development for a number of months; the most recent incarnation is a step to improve the design, look and feel of the site.

An official launch will be announced in the next few weeks while additional content is developed for the site.

For a sneek peek at The News-Enterprise Online, point your browser to http://www.newsenterpriseonline.com/

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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