Consumer Warning: Computer Security Product Scams


Eric's Home Page
  1. How the Scam Works
  2. Real Risks
  3. Protect Yourself


What's your real risk?

One reason why the scammers get away with their scam is because they are careful to mix some truth in with the lies. And the truth is that there are some privacy risks that come along with using a personal computer. Here I try to give you a realistic look at these privacy risks so that you can make an informed decision as to how you want to handle them.

File Deletion Isn't

The first thing to note is that file deletion isn't. A simple software tool can bring a file back from the grave.

Here's how it works. A file actually consists of two parts: Information ABOUT the file ( its name, size, etc.) stored in the directory or folder, and a list of actual data blocks containing the actual information in the file. When you "delete" a file, what you are actually doing is two things. First, you mark it as "deleted" in the directory or folder, so it will no longer show up in the directory or folder when you go into it. Secondly, you add the list of blocks to a "free" list so that they can be reused for new files. But all the data is still in those blocks!. So if the blocks haven't been reused yet, the entire file can be resurrected, quite intact.

There's programs to do a "true" erase. I'll cover those in the next installation.

Formatting a drive doesn't delete information

True. All it does is write a few information blocks to tell your computer "this is a blank drive". So even "format c:" before sending your computer to a repair shop won't erase all the information on your hard drive.

Browsing inappropriate sites from work will get you fired

Most corporate computers in the United States are monitored for inappropriate activity. The network administrator can "look over your shoulder" and see what you are doing on your computer at any given time, invisibly, over your computer's network connection.

Even if you manage to disable the monitor software, you're still not home free. The fact of the matter is that all web browsing goes through a single "gateway" to the Internet (a "web proxy"), and every URL that you browse is logged. There is nothing you can do about this. No software will stop this from happening, because it's a seperate piece of hardware, stuck in a machine room to which you have no access.

And furthermore, no piece of software will stop this from happening. In fact, installing an unlicensed piece of software on a computer at work can get you fired. One local employer was fined $5,000,000 because employees brought unauthorized software to work and installed it on the employer's computer. Now, like most U.S. employers, they have software installed to monitor and prohibit employees from installing software on their computers.

Point: Never do anything on computers at work that you would not want your employer to see.

Note: "anonymizers" will be discussed in the next installation, but are not a panacea.

Your browser caches information

Truth. Generally it caches a list of sites that you've browsed, going back 50 or 100 URL's, and a few megabytes of cached information to speed up future browsing of commonly-accessed sites. So if there are some URL's that you don't want your spouse to see, you may need to either a) use a browser that doesn't leave "tracks", or b) use a program to erase the cache and the URL list.

A computer repair shop can see everything on your hard drive

Even if you have a password-protected login, he can mount it on another computer and see its contents. Either remove the hard drive before sending the computer to be repaired, erase it with a secure erase product, or make sure you trust your computer repair technician (i.e., he's a friend). Or make sure you have nothing sensitive on your computer.

Okay, so we've established that there's some privacy issues that you might want to address. Next: How do you address these issues? What software do you need?

John Bryant

Note that everything on this page is Copyright 1997-2018 John Bryant and represents my own opinions and nobody else's. Reproduction without permission strictly prohibited.