Surveillance 2: We know where you live

Hackers can bank on your account details

Think the Net is anonymous? The same information sources that creditors use are available to anyone with a computer and credit card. With just a few minutes and a few pounds, online snoops can track your real-world activities -- right down to your current location.

Employment locator services, which are available at a low cost from companies like Infoseekers.com, require only a Social Security number and address to start.

If it's personal information that gets the curtain twitchers excited, for around £6 they can buy your identifying data from online brokers like 1800ussearch.com and Informus (www.informus.com). In many cases, this information is all anyone needs to access your banking records.

Levi Strauss now collects thumbprints and Social Security numbers when Americans use its new Original Spin service to buy custom jeans at its stores.

Your Internet habits reveal a lot about who you are, and your movements are easier to track than you think. If you have a DSL connection, then you're especially vulnerable, because your connection is always on. This not only allows hackers to know where to find your files, but also makes it easy for them to pose as you when they go about their nefarious business.

By emailing you a cookie embedded in an HTML message, snoops can follow your movements around the Web, while anyone can look up postings you've made to Usenet through sites like Deja.com.

The baddies also like to keep it in the family. Well-meaning genealogy Web sites, such as FamilyTreeMaker.com, are a rich source of information for Internet ne'er-do-wells. If they don't already know enough to get at your financial records, what they gather here should do the trick. At many banks, your mother's maiden name is an all-access pass.

Once a snoop knows your children's names, it doesn't take much to find out where they go to school. Many schools now host Web sites, posting students' names and grade levels, which are within easy reach of interlopers.

They can even track you on the go -- with or without the kids. If they know where you live and where you work, then it's not hard to figure out your daily commute schedule. With the information available from the most basic people searches, your financial records can even reveal your daily habits, such as where and when you stop for petrol.

And once a hacker has access to your email, it's easy to intercept your messages through a Web-based mail service like Hotmail, which offers POP mail retrieval. Messages are left for you on the POP server, so you'll never be the wiser. Meanwhile, the thief can track sensitive material, such as delivery notifications.

Take me to the Surveillance 2 ZDNet News special.

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