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What Your Pet Says About Your Privacy

Jan 26, 20114 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

People love their pets and so do social engineers. Talking about your pet may offer the social engineer valuable insights about you.

Social engineers use many methods to hack people’s heads. One popular flavor depends on the built-in human desire to help others. (That and the endless supply of human naïveté.) Believe it or not, just talking about your pet may offer the social engineer valuable insights about you.

According to the 2010 Social Network Fraud Survey conducted by ID Analytics, “Nearly 20 million Americans reveal their pets’ names on their social networks, another common security question asked to verify identities.” In a casual social media conversation, a person may tell a story of their first pet and mention that pet’s name. “Name of first pet” can also be a security question on a financial website. If that is the case, a cybercriminal doesn’t need to hack your account by learning your password, or infect your PC with a banking Trojan, since correct answers to security questions can sometimes be enough to reset your password.

Do you post pictures of your beloved pet? As we’ve seen in the past, pictures can practically shout your location by default. Do you remember to remove the hidden metadata before posting a picture of your pet? If not, then anyone with Exif Viewer or the Firefox add-on FxIF can right-click on the photo to read data in local and remote JPEG images. The I Can Stalk U site has also tried to raise awareness of geotagged pictures by posting the location being inadvertently shared when people tweet a link to a picture they took.

There have been tons of for-fun articles, as well as behavioral studies, about what your pet says about you. A recent Career Builder survey conducted by Harris Interactive was particularly interesting. It found a correlation between chosen profession and chosen animal companion type. What does your pet say to a social engineer about your career?

Puppies may be like Prozac-with-paws, making owners happy to mention their four-legged friend on social media. Dog owners are more likely to work in senior management positions. Other dog owner occupations tend to include people who work in IT, the military, professors, nurses or even entertainers.

The pets by professional occupation survey found that people who own cats often include “physicians, real estate agents, science or medical lab technicians, machine operators and personal caretakers.”

If a person mentions owning a snake or other reptile, a social engineer may hear “most likely to earn a six figure income” like an engineer or marketing/public relations professional. Yet the same survey seems to give conflicting data, since very few social workers, editors/writers or police officers make a six figure salary but claim to be reptile owners. Of course, reporting a six-figure income isn’t the same as actually having one.

Bird owners are workers who are the most satisfied with their occupation, most likely having jobs as “advertising professionals, sales representatives, construction workers and administrative professionals.” Fish owners tended to be “human resource professionals, financial professionals, hotel and leisure workers, farming, fishing and forestry professionals, transportation workers.”

We love our pets and we love to share pictures and pride-and-joy stories about them. People tend to be very cautious about mentioning their children on social media, but you may want to stop and think first before talking too much about your pet. It could say more about you than you intended.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.