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Despite regular warnings from some of the most well known internet security firms in the world, most web users simply do not understand how vulnerable they really are. The latest reminder of just how dangerous the internet can truly be came in the form of a group who was able to hack a Yahoo database and release user information for more than 450,000 people. The true impact of this hack might not be seen for months or even years in part because Yahoo, like any other company that gets hacked these days, has downplayed the seriousness of the breach. For their part the internet company that has been suffering a steady stream of trouble over the last few years announced that most of the information that was taken was from an “old” database housing user logins for their Yahoo Contributor Network (formerly Associated Content).  

The problem is that the user information also included information pertaining to Hotmail, Gmail and AOL information according to one Internet security firm Rapid7. Members of Rapid7 have said that the hack is “way bigger” than Yahoo, and that tens of thousands of people outside of Yahoo could be affected by the hack. And this is the crux of the problem. Most people assume that when they sign up for a service, especially with a company like Yahoo or MSN, that these companies have found every flaw in their security. The average internet user does not understand that every piece of information they put out on the web is vulnerable. Hackers declare open season on companies like Yahoo because when they score a breach it means scores of data files are liable to be snapped up.

This is hardly an isolated incident and it remains to be seen just how many hacks have to occur before internet users wake up to the reality that information online is always going to be at risk. Just last month, the social networking site LinkedIn suffered a breach in their software that made the account information and passwords of more than six million users vulnerable. Lulzsec Reborn, a new iteration of one of the most famous hacker groups in the world, was able to access information for more than 10,000 accounts on Twitter using an application that didn’t have enough security in use. That same group was also able to breach the dating site, and acquire the login information of more than 170,000 members. The point can be underlined over and over and over, and the danger will still be out there. No matter how much we think we have protected ourselves, in the end we have left a great deal dangling in the wind waiting for someone to take advantage.  

There are, of course, precautions that can be taken to minimize your exposure should a site you frequent fall victim. If one thing can be learned from the rash of cyber invasions popping up these days, it is that you should never use the same password twice. The Yahoo hack alone shows that gaining even a little bit of information leads to gaining a lot of information far too easily. When using sites that ask for security questions, make sure that you are choosing different ones as well. The old standby of using your mother’s maiden name, or the first job you worked can is just as easy to duplicate as a password.  

Most of the recent hacks have actually been pitched by those doing the hacking as an altruistic effort to show the weaknesses of companies like Yahoo. Altruistic or not, millions of people have been exposed and someone along the way is going to find a way to benefit themselves to the detriment of others.