NORMAN — Whether you do online banking and shopping or not, it’s good to know what sort of personal, private information actually resides in your computer. The longer we use our computers, the greater the odds things are there we are unaware of, or have simply forgotten.
Your private computer and Internet-related information (bank account, credit card, Social Security numbers, names, addresses, etc.) exists in two types, depending on what is happening at the time. Computer IT wonks refer to these two types as “data at rest” and “data in motion.”
“Data at rest” is data that is not actively participating in any activity; it simply exists, “at rest” in your computer, on a hard drive, flash drive, DVD, or some other form of data storage. It is “resting,” i.e., it is not busy doing anything or moving around.
“Data in motion,” on the other hand, is data that is moving from one place to another. An example of data in motion is when you check your email; data (your username and password) is moving from your computer to the email server computers of whoever is your email provider, requesting that they send you your email. Even if you don’t see the data moving, because your email program or browser automatically sends your password behind the scenes, the data is still in motion.
The point of this long-winded “data-at-rest, data-in-motion” explanation is that private, personal data at rest that accidentally turns into data in motion can be very dangerous data, and it happens all the time. Internet security pros spend a lot of time and effort protecting data in motion, but a security and privacy company named Velosecure says they have a better way: clean up your computer first, getting rid of confidential data at rest that you may not even know exists.
To that end, they have invented “Identity Finder,” an impressive program that scans computers, and even entire networks for sensitive data that, if accidentally turned into data in motion, could spell disaster for the data owners. Identity Finder comes in many different versions, including one that is free to personal and non-commercial users. That’s the version that I tried, and I recommend you try it, too.
To get your free copy of Identity Finder, go to identityfinder.com, put your mouse pointer on top of the “Download” link and click “Free.” Apple Mac users will be pleased to find there is a version for OS X, versions 10.5 and higher. Download the version appropriate for your computer, double-click the downloaded file and install the program. The installation is a bit cranky, asking you to sign up for this or that service or extra add-on, but you can say “No” to most of them and simply install the program.
After installing Identity Finder, run the program (double-click the new icon that has appeared on your desktop) and pick “Launch Free.” You can say “Yes” to the next few screens and say “Skip” to the “New Identity Finder Profile” window that appears. Say “OK” to the Guest Profile question, and you’ll finally be ready to get down to business.
Once you can see the “Identity Finder Wizard,” you are presented with a few choices. Open the Advanced Interface if you really want to get down to some nitty-gritty tweaking, but I recommend most folks simply make sure all other programs are closed and click the button that says “Start search now.”
The free version of Identity Finder only searches for passwords and credit card numbers, but that was enough to give me pause. Identity Finder quickly found a copy of a credit report I had requested two years ago and had forgotten about. It easily tagged the three credit card numbers contained in the report, reminding me of the fact that copies of credit reports should probably not be stored on computers that are connected to the Internet. Oops. My bad.
The Personal version of Identity Finder costs $40 for one computer, or $80 for three. It does a much more thorough job than the free version, in that it also finds unsecured Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, bank account numbers, passwords and more. It also searches emails and web browsers for sensitive data. For what it does, I think it’s a bargain, as is the entire line of Identity Finder software.
Based in Norman, Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com.