Dancing the Two-Step

With the recent Adobe security breach we should all be reminded how vulnerable our data really is in the hands of hundreds, sometimes thousands of data providers and online businesses. We are relying on others to keep our information safe and out of the hands of these bad guys. Going back 20 years, would you ever have thought to trust so much personal information to so many? Not me. It has almost become 2nd nature for us to hand over personal info without a  thought. It is a little scary to think how complacent we have become with not only our own personal information, but also our employer’s and client’s information.

I have the pleasure of being in great communities of investigators and security professionals, who for the most part will give you free advice that for many is invaluable. Most professional groups have some type of Listserve or online group through which they communicate. But, being a member of a Listserve can come at a price. Listserves are a convenient way for malware to be spread to thousands of people via one single email address. When one person is complacent and allows their email account to be hacked, it puts many of us at risk. Not to mention yours and your client’s data. What should be done?

There is something called Multi-Factor or Two-step authentication that has been around for years, but has just in the recent few become mainstream and widely available. Multi-factor authentication provides a second layer of security to online accounts in addition to your standard password. This 2nd layer could be a hardware device like Yubikey, or a 4 digit code that is sent to your cell phone. I use both. Multi-factor authentication is now available through most major online service providers such as; Google, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, etc.

My question is…why not? It’s very much like your bank asking you for your telephone password in addition to your name or locking the deadbolt on your front door in addition to the handle lock. These two things have become acceptable to us, and so will securing your online accounts. We just need to place the same importance on those accounts as we do our homes and finances.

This Gizmodo article does a good job at getting you started: How to Enable Two-Factor Authentication on All Your Accounts

Stay safe and keep following those virtual breadcrumbs. ~ The Hi-Tech P.I.

Search and Ye Shall Find

What is a search engine? Definitively, a search engine is an information retrieval system that works algorithmically to assist in finding information. Now in Layman’s terms, a search engine is…well Google. Some would argue with me, and say that there are many choices out there, not just Google. Well sure there are, you could use Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com.Or if you are concentrating on people finding, there are Wink.com, Pipl.com, Whozat.com and many others. Some self proclaimed techie PI’s will tell you about a new site every week just to keep themselves relevant, but instead I say we should learn how to use what we have to its fullest potential, then if you need more, move on.

Most people believe that a search engine is like reaching into a hat full of random information and pulling something out with no real control over what they are going to get. They monotonously sift through pages upon pages of errant information just to finally find that single golden result they had been searching for. What if I were to tell you that you could increase the odds of finding your result on the very first page? Well with a few tricks in place, you can do just that. These types of tricks are commonly known as Google Hacks.

Let’s say you are searching on a website like…well cowparade.com. That’s right, cowparade.com. And on that site you are looking for events that happened in 2008. You go to cowparade.com and you notice that there is NO search bar. How do you search the site for what you need?! Have no fear. All you have to do is go to our friend Google and type in site:cowparade.com 2008. BAM! It is as if you were searching on the subject website all along. Using this Google Hack, your results will be restricted to only those on the target website, leaving you virtually no irrelevant results. Try it with social networks as well (ex. site:facebook.com holmesforhire)

A small tip is worth a thousand words. “Quotation marks.” Did you know that if you put quotes around any word in your search term, Google will restrict the results to that exact term? I know it sounds trivial, but it is often overlooked. You can try variations by only placing one word in quotes and others not, or all in quotes. Endless possibilities.

What about searching phone numbers? Have you ever Googled a phone number in this format (972)555-1212? Well the results you got were probably not what you were looking for. This is because Google recognizes the hyphens, but not the parentheses, so your result is a jumbled mess. Instead search the phone number like this 972-555-1212. Your results will reveal the number used in both of the above formats and if you need to narrow it down throw some quotes around it. Google also has a built in Residential phone directory. Try this in the Google search bar, phonebook: john smith dallas, tx. You will be provided results for all residential telephone listings for John Smith in Dallas, TX.

A common misconception when searching is that more is better. It is actually the opposite. When you place words into a search engine, you are telling it to search for every one of those words, leaving you with tons of irrelevant data. People often search with an entire question, almost as if we were talking to a human. This is very wrong. Try to cut out all of the articles (a, and, the, etc.) and use effective key words. For example instead of searching “What is the best place to mount a Garmin GPS in my car?” you should really search “gps placement car”. It is all about the relevancy. By removing the irrelevant words from your search term, you made your results solid.

I will end the lesson with one last simple Hack. Say you are researching “eagles”. Well go ahead and type it in and see what the top results are. Philadelphia Eagles, right?! Well as a Philadelphia Eagles fan, this does not offend me, but it certainly may offend you, while putting a crimp in your online search. Sifting through tons of results with Philadelphia mixed in will be quite annoying (especially for a Dallas Cowboys fan) and time consuming. You can solve this by placing a hyphen in front of the word -Philadelphia. So instead of Googling Eagles, you should google “Eagles -Philadelphia”. Now Google will automatically exclude all results that include the word Philadelphia.

Well I hope this intro to Google search techniques was a little more worthwhile than a self proclaimed expert regurgitating links to websites that are eventually going to lead you to a paid search by Intelius. God I hate Intelius! ~TheHiTechPI

UPDATE– As Tamara Thompson of PIbuzz.com pointed out, Google Phonebook is no longer available and has been corrected in my post.  Thanks Tamara!

More Google hacks to come…