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By Yoo Jung Kim
The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College

(UWire)—Take a hypothetical student in her typical day. She'll wake up in the morning and blitz her friends before heading off to class. While her professor lectures on the importance of the cheese industry during World War I, she'll Facebook her friend's profile and "like" a picture that another friend has posted from her Beijing FSP. At the end of class, she'll head to the library to work on her paper and Google articles on the importance of the cheese industry during World War I. After she finds the necessary documents, she'll meet up with her friend and eventually have dinner and return to her dorm. After getting ready for bed, she will YouTube music videos and Skype her parents on the West Coast before shutting off her laptop and plugging in the charger.

A recent string of hacks proves that our information is never completely secure. A discerning reader will notice that many of the verbs used above are not verbs at all, though they have been incorporated into the vernacular of internet jargon. While websites such as YouTube and Facebook began as proper nouns, their names have transitioned into everyday verbs. Additionally, the internet has developed a sense of "place" that has been constructed by the millions of daily interactions. From the fantastic slaying of MMORPG monsters to the mundane act of paying bills, many routines of daily life, such as reading the news, getting mail, doing business and interacting between friends and family have already made the transition into the virtual. As our lives become more and more entwined within the World Wide Web, we face the growing pressure to expose ourselves in order to gain access to its services.

We generally trust established internet services to keep our private contacts, credit card and Social Security numbers secure. The government's efforts over the past decade to upgrade its cyber security legislations further contribute to the perception that the internet is becoming safer. In August 2006, for instance, Congress ratified the Convention of Cybercrime, the first international treaty that addresses computer and internet crime by harmonizing national cybercrime legislation to improve investigative and criminal procedural cooperation.

Yet a recent string of hacks proves that our information is never completely secure. Last April, Sony PlayStation's Player Network website had to disconnect 77 million player accounts, costing the company $173 million in damages, in a well-publicized instance of online security intrusion that compromised the personal identification information of millions of users.

Check out tips for protecting your information online.

Learn more about identity theft.

The organization that claimed credit for the attack, a publicity-seeking group of hackers called Lulzsec (a portmanteau of "lol" and "security"), followed by hacking into other entertainment sites, the CIA, the FBI affiliates and the U.S. Senate. Other malevolent and widespread threats to internet security also persist, with countless examples of identity thefts and account hacks by cyber-thieves who attempt to acquire sensitive information from electronic communication and social networking sites.

One of the biggest difficulties in enforcing cybercrime legislation stems from the fact that cybercrime is a transnational phenomenon. While forward-thinking, the Convention of Cybercrime is criticized for its extremely broad definition of "cybercrime" and encounters difficulties when reconciling its initiatives with various national and local laws. Given the current difficulty in identifying anonymous hackers and other internet criminals, we must wait to see how effective the current convention will be and how many revisions the convention will need in order to be truly effective.

While computer crime legislation is a relatively new phenomenon, we cannot rely on law enforcement to keep the internet safe. The best that we can do is to turn on our anti-virus software (even you, Mac users), encrypt sensitive information and be wary of giving out personal information to unknown entities such as Facebook applications. As more of our lives are transplanted to the virtual arena, we can only hope that the growing threat of internet crimes be matched by our own vigilance.

Published August 5, 2011

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