Webbing may not be the safe way, but it’s the best way

September 22, 2008 — by Elizabeth Lee

According to the New York Times, a recent leak in the Princeton Review website database allowed complete strangers to access private files containing confidential student information. The data that was leaked included practice test scores, birth dates, learning disabilities and other personal data of current and past students. Although the damage could have potentially been much worse if it had included credit card or social security numbers, the leak has heightened awareness of the dangers of technology.

However risky the Internet may be, technology has become such an important part of life that few can and are willing to live without it. People do realize what dangers they face when utilizing the Web for basic duties but simply choose to neglect them.

Even if people wanted to avoid using the Internet altogether, that would not be possible because the Web now performs some of the most mundane functions such as communications, business transactions, and exchange of important documents. Even universities have begun to require that applicants send in essays and other essential personal information through the Web, increasing the chances of exposing confidential information. Many users are aware of these dangers, but it does not deter them from constantly sending their personal information via the Internet—perhaps because of the convenience and speed of delivery.

In addition, the number of people paying bills online has been increasing due to the quickness and efficiency of settling financial payments within minutes. As seen with e-mailing, the process isn’t a clean one; according to Lisa Duchene of Penn State, it is possible that online bankers will encounter risks such as identity theft, “key logging,” and “phishing,” including damage to the victim’s credit rating and a whole lot of paperwork to clean up the mess. These problems do not apply only to online banking; every day credit card numbers are stolen from unsuspecting shoppers trying to find the best deals online.

Despite all the security risks lurking on every corner of the net, nobody seems to really care to stop using the Web. Sure, there are times that the Internet seems to be doing more harm than good, with the Princeton Review case as an example, but it can be advantageous as well.

E-mail has broadened the horizons of communication due to its speed. Banking online has not only saved users’ time in settling their payments, but it has also saved countless trees. And at Amazon, what other place is there where items are offered at a cheap price with shipping and delivery?

The Internet is a double-edged sword; it’s handy and necessary, but with some negative consequences. So even though the Princeton Review could have prevented their shocking incident with stiffer security systems or even found the problem earlier (it was up for seven months!) by running database checks, one good thing may come of it—a wake-up call. Following this database leak, teens and adults alike should be more prudent while using the Web, whether it be Collegeboard’s website or a Facebook page.

People should take into account what could happen when they are giving up a credit card number, name or other personal information to websites. To reduce the chances of anything damaging from happening, it’s advisable to use sites that everyone knows about instead of the less well-known sites. That way, if something does happen, more attention will be brought to the issue, and more support from people who will find a solution to the problem, with the Princeton Review case as a prime example.

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