Top 10 reasons to be paranoid

Every bit of your virtual existence is being monitored -- get scared accordingly

Reason No. 8: Your Wi-Fi net is wide open

Got a secure Wi-Fi connection? Good for you. But your neighbors may not be so lucky.

According to an October 2006 survey by the US Wi-Fi Alliance, three out of 10 home networks are insecure. More surprisingly, one out of four business Wi-Fi networks is totally open, according to a May 2006 survey by RSA.

That same RSA survey found that 20 per cent to 30 per cent of access points in major cities throughout the world use the user name and password supplied by their router manufacturer, allowing knowledgeable "war drivers" to log in to the device and change its security settings.

Aside from sucking up bandwidth, war drivers can use your connection to send spam, download porn, and snoop around your shared folders.

Using an open Wi-Fi network yourself isn't exactly safe, either. You could log on to an open network in an airport or other public space and end up on an "evil twin," a Wi-Fi network set up to mimic a legit one but operated by some creep with a laptop and a mobile access point, notes Paul Henry, vice president at Secure Computing. The crooks could then sniff your data, grab passwords and other sensitive information, and gain access to your corporate network or steal your identity.

If your home net isn't already locked down, now's the time. And if you must access open Wi-Fi nets, use end-to-end encryption for the sensitive stuff.

Paranoia Meter: 2.5

Reason No. 7: There's a spook in your inbox

Remember when the CIA was a dark, malevolent force lurking in the shadows of our lives, tapping our phones, reading our mail, and planting explosive devices in Castro's cigars? Well, they're baaaack. Only now it's the National Security Agency, and they're snooping into your e-mail, cell phone conversations, and Lord knows what else.

What we do know is fairly limited. According to an account in The New York Times, the spooks are heavily involved in data mining, combing through billions of electronic records, looking for patterns that might identify the behavior of terrorists.

We know that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing AT&T for allowing the spooks to tap into their datacenters and that the government is trying to quash the suit by claiming such information is a state secret -- which is about as far from a denial as you can get.

We also know US Attorney General John Ashcroft, Acting Attorney General James Comey, and FBI Director Robert Mueller nearly resigned over domestic spying activities in 2004, forcing the Bush administration to change tactics.

And we know that Congress recently handed the spooks a virtual blank check for spying on conversations with foreign nationals, although they promise to revisit said blank check in six months.

And even if we did tell you what the agency is doing, we'd have to kill you -- and then flush all evidence of your existence down the memory hole.

"Until recently, we didn't have to worry much about the government spying on us," says Larry Ponemon, director of the Ponemon Institute, a privacy management consultancy. "Now somebody decides that you're a terror threat or they don't like you for some reason, and you can't get on a plane. It may not necessarily happen to you, but it could happen to someone you know."

Bottom line: Keep your nose clean and watch the plainclothes.

Paranoia Meter: 3

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Dan Tynan

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