Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Internet Banking with the Stupids

The American tourists next to me did everything wrong.

I was peaceably reading my e-mail in an internet cafe in the touristy part of town when I heard the duo lumber in. "Do you think there's internet?" the man asked his wife. "I think so," responded the woman, tipped off by the rows of computers and the sign saying "high speed internet."

The couple, who I immediately nicknamed The Stupids, sat down, and the man began to loudly relay everything he thought to his wife and everyone else. "I hope the link works." "Which one should I order?" "Do you have the credit card?" "What's a card security code?" "I hope there's some still in stock." "How long will shipping take?"

After about ten minutes of this, the Stupids stood up and asked the good-natured Thai clerk if he knew where to buy tickets to "traditional Thai dancing," which is like asking a convenience store clerk in Las Vegas if he knows where to find "a musical show with dancing girls." The two left, and calm re-settled on the tiny shop.

There is no way to avoid internet banking and other transactions when you are on the road for any length of time, but it needs to be done with some sense and discretion. The couple demonstrated how not to do it.

All public internet connections are unsecure. There is no way to eliminate the risk of theft or identity fraud, but there are steps to take to manage the risk.

The first step would be to shut your yap and not let everyone in the internet cafe know you are making an online financial transaction. You'd think that would be obvious.

I take additional precautions. I only make online transactions when absolutely necessary. Each additional log-on carries a marginal risk.

I pick an internet cafe in a Thai neighborhood. An organized scammer would be more likely to target the high-dollar tourist market than Thais earning $1,000 a month.

I pick a time when the cafe is slow, and then I pick a computer which faces away from everyone else. If anyone walks by, I change screens to a blog.

Perhaps most importantly, I try to pick a cafe which is being managed by a bored adult reading a magazine. A bored 17-year-old sitting behind the server is far more likely to know how to run a proxy and capture all of my keystrokes.

I wonder how many mobile phone cards were charged to the Stupids' credit card before they realized something was wrong.


Anonymous Bruce Stupid said...

I extensively document my every precaution on a public Web site.

2:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should assume that EVERY public machine has been compromised. these are the very first places a hacker will go. it takes about 10 seconds to take own a whole internet shop...

12:11 AM  

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