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Who is Spying on You

Who is Spying on You

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Published by Charteris Plc

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Published by: Charteris Plc on Oct 19, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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08/01/2011

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Who’s spying on
 you?
 by Alan WoodwardTechnology, being capable of being used for both good and badpurposes, is by its very nature a
neutral
force. Weapons can protect us orharm us, telephones can bring us great or ghastly news, computers can bewonderfully useful tools that allow us to be many times more efficientand productive than we could ever been without them, or they can causeus massive security breaches that seriously dent our efficiency and evenin some cases wipe out our business completely.
Unfortunately, it’s now a whole lot easier to misuse one particular 
technology: internet search engines. Why? Because internet hackinggroups have been busily issuing instruction manuals on exactly how touse search engines as a channel for serious hacking. In many caseswould-
 be hackers don’t even need to know the technical details of what
they are doing but can simply cut and paste search criteria into the searchbar.Internet search engines, already so ubiquitous that we tend to takethem for granted, are already among the most powerful technology in theworld. Their performance is close to miraculous. They scour the globalweb for the results we want and then present us with the results, in aboutas much time as it takes a finger to click on a mouse. The search enginesoffer users a calibre of access to the internet that verges on the magical.Best of all, the user interface to a search engine is simplicity itself to use.
As always with truly powerful technology, though, there’s a
potential downside. In the case of the search engines, which in practicefor most of us nowadays means Google, the downside is, unfortunately,
 
 2
that Google can easily be used to unearth information about you that you
don’t want people to know.
 Why is this? Primarily because Google
is
so powerful. WhatGoogle (and other search engines) do is ensure that everything which isaccessible via the internet is conveniently indexed so that you knowexactly where to look should you require it, rather like the card indexesin libraries of old, except that internet search engines are literally billionsof times faster.As well as the speed issue, earlier generations using index cards inthose marvellously crafted wooden drawers that once adorned libraries,were typically able to search by only one item (eg author) and even thencould only search through what happened to be in that particular library.The power of internet search engines and modern computers means, onthe other hand, that users anywhere in the world can search through anindex of 
everything
published on the internet, using a variety of criteriathat match the material for which they are searching.Sadly, this also means that anyone who is in the market for illicit
corporate data (or who’s just feeling mischievous, an e
motion that the
internet has, let’s face it, always indulged) can take advantage of the
power of search engines to find data to which the authors never intendedthem to have access but which those authors have inadvertently leftexposed.What methods can such people use to do this? The unfortunate
truth is that unearthing data they’ve no business unearthing really isn’tthat difficult for them. Admittedly just typing in, for example, ‘show meall vulnerable data’ doesn’t (fortunately) bring it up but searc
h enginessuch as Google are a lot better at facilitating searches for such data thanis commonly realised. Basically, that facilitation comes with the territory,
 
3
and to some extent is the price one pays for the tremendous power of search engines.Google
, for example, even has special tools, known as ‘advancedoperators’, that search through the raft of data Google identifies from the
internet. These advanced operators are query words that have specialmeaning when used with Google. These operators allow a form of searching that most regular users would not dream was possible. For
instance, ‘
link:
’ is an advanced operator, and the query[link:www.google.com] doesn’t result in a normal search but instead
should yield all web pages that have links to www.google.com.Several of the more common advanced operators use punctuation
or ‘special characters’ instead of words.. Google itself freely gives details
of these special operators on the pagewww.google.com/help/operators.html.For Google users conducting genuine searches, advanced operatorscan be tremendously helpful resources. Unfortunately, they are also justas freely available to hackers, who exploit the fact that many people,when designing their website (or getting others to design it) and thengoi
ng live with it, believe they’ve locked their front door (that is, are
only going live with information they want to publicise) but in fact haveleft a window wide open alongside it and are publicising informationthey want to keep secret. Worst of all,
th
ey don’t know they have done
this
 
until, very likely, it’s too late.
 Not surprisingly, search engine providers know this is happeningand want to combat it. Google, for example, will gently suggest you
might like to use something call the ‘Google Hacks Honeypot’. This is
intended to help organisations who fear they have been compromised (or
could be compromised). It provides them with ‘Honeypots’ (a nickname

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