Friday, 2 March 2012

How To Protect Yourself From Internet Thieves

Nobody likes a thief. Nasty, sneaky little things, aren't they? But how do you know you're not one yourself? And how do you protect yourself from people who steal from you online?


I have to admit I'm a bit naughty from time to time where images are concerned, and don't give it a second thought: I take what I want, alter it to suit my design, then post it. Usually, I use images that are licenced for commercial use with modification, but they're not always available and I'm on a tight budget.


Now, this guy in the top left I've made myself on GIMP. I must confess that sometimes I will take an image I've found online and change it beyond recognition, then use it in my blog posts. That's not too bad in terms of the real cost to anyone (unless they do it for a living, in which case, don't, because you're robbing them of income) but there are ways of stealing online that have greater consequences and can either cost the victim a great deal of money or put him out of business.*


Bandwidth


I've never really understood the concept of bandwidth, but when my host reported that I'd exceeded my monthly allowance for page views I had to give it some attention. Apparently, they've taken me off Akamai and moved me to a different server to cope with this. It seems I had more than 10,000 visitors to my website.


WHAT???


My little website? My itty-bitty virtually unknown website? I checked my stats. I got about three and a half thousand page views according to Google Analytics. I did some checking online and it seems that when you hotlink (link directly to an image on another website) it's counted as a page view to them. That's what bandwidth is about. So it causes problems for them and can lead to them either having to pay more in hosting charges or removing their website because of the cost of keeping it up to cope with the inflated demand created by that lazy sod who was too lazy to upload that image and host it on their own site or on Photobucket or something like that.


Graphic designer and blogger David Airey has written a helpful tutorial to help us protect ourselves from this. I've implemented it - then found that I had to check my subdomains because it works a bit too well! Using the default iPage web address caused my banners to disappear from my blog so I had to put them into an image folder of their own and link from there.


I expect my host's viewing stats will plummet because of this, but that's okay. I need real viewers, not inflated figures.


Domains


You'd think that, if you bought and paid for a domain, it's yours, right? Yeah... it's still frighteningly easy to transfer a domain from one host to another. All you have to do is log in with your email address and password and you're in. So anyone with your login and password can get in and transfer your domain wherever they want it to go.


David Airey had exactly that happen to him. Some thieving git broke into his email account using an email exploit and diverted David's emails to his own account. He then plundered David's domain details, robbed his dotcom domain and planted it on another host. Then he contacted David to demand money for its return, taunting him about his failure to protect himself.


Google has since fixed the vulnerability and David got his domain back after a few days with a little help from some well-connected friends he didn't know he had. Rather than duplicate David's good advice, I'll link to it here so you can learn how to protect yourselves.


The short version is,



  • make sure you have good anti-virus software

  • keep away from dodgy sites

  • check your email settings regularly for filters that forward emails from your account to one you don't recognise

  • for goodness' sake be careful where you store your passwords. You don't want some random thief to find them in your saved emails, then use them to rob you blind.


Stay safe.


*Don't get me started on "intellectual property rights." Most of that is about the stupidity of trying to force people to pretend that it's possible to create in a vacuum (good luck with that, everything is derivative), and that there's no such thing as "download" or "copy and paste" and making (bad) laws accordingly. I'm aware that people may (if they really, really want to) decide that they like my work and want to use it. Go ahead, but please download, then post the images, and credit me somewhere on the page with a link to this site. If you like an article I've written, use a snippet of the text, then link to the article. It's good netiquette.

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