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September 2, 2014

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Six Questions:

Digital expert recommends using tougher passwords, deleting cookies

Beyond the Sun

Many people are concerned about identity theft over the Internet and want to know how to protect themselves in the digital world. Few have given both subjects as much thought as has Darrell West.

As vice president and director of both Governance Studies and the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, West has written extensively on the political, policy and legal challenges raised by digital technology. He’ll deliver a public lecture at 5:30 p.m. April 7 at UNLV’s Greenspun Hall Auditorium on how people can gain the advantages of the Internet without suffering its problems.

What are some of the best ways online consumers can protect their identity?

The best protection is choosing nonobvious passwords and having different passwords for important accounts. Using your partner’s name, that of your pet, or your hometown or favorite sports team is asking for trouble. People forget that nearly all of that information now is online through Facebook or other public sites.

How should Internet users go about trusting a website to make sure their identities aren’t compromised?

Users should read the online privacy policy of sites to discover whether or how that website will employ information. These policies detail use of cookies for tracking visitors, what the company does with information, and whether the company sells information to other vendors. If you don’t see a strong policy protecting consumer interests, you should not be very trusting of that site.

Is there anything consumers can do to prevent marketing companies or others from gathering information on their Internet browsing history?

Cookies are the device by which some sites track Internet browsing history. Consumers can protect themselves by not accepting cookies or going into the tool history of their Internet browser and deleting cookie tracking. Upgrading to the most recent version of an Internet browser is vital because those versions have the best protective measures.

How would you rate the performance of law enforcement agencies in identifying and apprehending cybercriminals?

Law enforcement agencies are working hard to keep up with cybercriminals but as with many new areas of crime, they often are two or three steps behind the most creative criminals. As more commercial and public-sector transactions move online, individuals and businesses should expect more efforts to steal information and hack credit card numbers. People can help the police by taking their own online security measures seriously. Lazy consumers mean easy targets for criminals.

What laws, if any, would you like to see Congress approve to address the challenges of the new digital world?

Congress is considering new laws dealing with online privacy and cybersecurity. Legislators should update our rules in these areas because most of the current laws were written well before the Internet, social media, and other new digital platforms. It is hard for law enforcement to police the digital world when our major legislation was written decades ago.

Cloud computing involving storage of a computer user’s information on another party’s commercial server is becoming more popular, but are there dangers associated with that?

Cloud providers take security very seriously. In general, they have more secure facilities than most individuals do for their desktop or laptop computers. They employ stronger passwords and run background checks on their employees. The biggest security threat facing all computer companies is the disgruntled employee or the worker who loses a laptop. There are an unbelievable number of laptops stolen every year.

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