Digital Life: Hacked off with cyber thieves? Here's how to stay secure online
Caught red-faced: Sony's Kazuo Hirai apologises for a security breachTo lose one set of credit-card numbers is unfortunate. But to allow two to go missing, well, that's just careless.
Sony's admission that 100 million of its game customers had been the victims of two hacker break-ins should put the wind up anyone using the web.
"These illegal attacks obviously highlight the widespread problem with cyber-security," said Sony bigwig Kaz Hirai at a media event to apologise for the intrusion. Names, addresses, dates of birth and, in some cases, credit card numbers were stolen.
If a giant corporation such as Sony can't keep your personal details private from ne'er-do-wells, is anything safe?
The short answer is yes, don't panic, the web is still a secure place to buy and socialise but a few simple precautions can minimise the risk to your wallet and privacy.
- Don't give away your personal details willy-nilly to any site that asks.
Even though many people are comfortable oversharing on Facebook, it makes sense to be a little bit coy with most sites. Avoid filling in biographical information where possible or, for example, use a fake birthday. Keep the real detail for key sites such as banking.
- Set up an alternative email address from Gmail or Hotmail specifically for use with unfamiliar websites. Going one step further, free sites such as Mailinator enable you to create a throwaway address that you might use only once.
- Use a credit card rather than debit card when paying for online purchases because they offer better fraud protection.
- Buy a credit card voucher such as 3V Visa if you feel nervous about your regular credit card.
These prepaid cards can be used only once but eliminate the risk of cloning or unauthorised purchases.
- Never use the same password on multiple sites -- if hackers discover it, they'll have unfettered access to much of your online life.
Remembering different passwords will be difficult unless you come up with a system.
Alternatively, buy software such as 1Password for Mac and PC. In addition to storing all your passwords in a secure database, it can generate random ones and automatically fill them for you on websites.
Despite Sony's embarrassing cock-up, which could see its service offline until the end of the month, it's unlikely many people will be seriously affected so long as they report any suspicious transactions on their credit cards and be wary of official-looking emails that could just be "phishing" attempts.
As a goodwill gesture for its sins, Sony is offering its customers a range of downloadable goodies over the coming weeks -- keep an eye on the PlayStation Blog.
The violent, bustling world of Grand Theft Auto gets all the plaudits but for sheer authenticity and boundless depth, the Yakuza gangster saga holds the aces.
If you're not a fan of how Hollywood remakes foreign films as glossy, high-concept blockbusters, you'll prefer the grittier vibe of this sprawling tale taking you inside the Tokyo mafia.
Unlike Yakuza 3 -- where, incredibly, series hero Kazuma ended up running an orphanage -- Y4 cuts straight to the action, putting you in control of the first of four characters roaming the red-light district of the Japanese capital.
The story of this kindly loan shark intertwines with that of a corrupt cop, an escaped convict and, of course, semi-reformed gangster Kazuma. Sandwiched between the eye-opening sights of Tokyo's seedy backstreets lies of a welter of entertainment in pachinko parlours, hostess bars and karaoke dives.
It's a plot told with copious cut-scenes and plentiful fist fights. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be compelled to see it to the end.
Michael Jackson: The Experience
Put aside horrible memories of the inadequate Wii version.
This enhanced dance-along Jacko game packs a helluva lot more polish and, more importantly, accurate motion tracking.
MJ himself is conspicuously absent on-screen but his presence shines through his great songs and choreography, to which you can sing along as you try to copy the moves.
Oddly, both the X360 and PS3 editions are missing key features present in the other, such as video clips and true multiplayer (absent on X360) and body tracking (not on PS3).
Dishwasher Vampire Smile
I was in the minority who didn't particularly enjoy the original Dishwasher, a grungy slash-em-up produced largely by one guy in his bedroom.
Vampire Smile raises the blood-letting a notch or 10. However, to my eyes it remains far too repetitive and twitchy to sustain the interest through its copious content. Good value for a download-only title, nonetheless.
Playstation Move Heroes
Reuniting three of Sony's biggest franchises -- Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank and Sly Racoon -- sounds like a dream team.
But this tired collection of mini-games fails to exploit the full potential of the idea.
The kid-friendly games rely on motion-tracking for simple tasks such as crate-smashing and robot shooting.
But familiar wisecracks aside, none of the titular heroes retain their trademark abilities to liven up a mostly dull set of levels.
Bits and Bytes
Channel 4's 4oD gets iPad approval
Channel 4 has made its 4oD on-demand TV service available as an iPad app. It doesn't grant access to the broad range of C4 shows as the website does but contains more than enough programming to whet your appetite.
The app is initially available free but there is expected to be a small one-off fee once the current sponsorship by a beer company ends. Shame it only works over WiFi, though.
Dealing with spam so you don't have to
If you were to guess, what percentage of email do you think is made up of spam? A quarter? Half? Three-quarters maybe?
Try 92pc. According to Irish web security firm IE Internet, just 8pc of all those messages bouncing around the net are legitimate emails. Thankfully, as a result of strict filtering by our ISPs and webmail providers, many of us see only a fraction of that spam because it's deleted before it hits our inboxes.
Predictably, dodgy offers of Viagra and other drugs make up the bulk of the spam, with fraudulent schemes coming in second.
Apple isn't tracking you any more
It took a couple of weeks but Apple finally responded to the iPhone tracking controversy by issuing a software fix to stop the mobile recording where you've been for up to a year.
Apple boss Steve Jobs came off sick leave to give interviews admitting the flaw but insisting it was accidental and nothing sinister. Apple uses the information anonymously to build data about WiFi services, etc, in your area.
Apple's full mea culpa is on its website.