A second life in a virtual environment: from simple socialization to revealing sensitive information

Sabina Raluca Datcu BitDefender

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This study focuses on the phenomenon of disclosing private information to online friends who appear to be sharing your interests. The sample consisted of 100 persons, half of them working in the IT security industry (chosen from a professional network), while the other half dwelt on 'the other side of the fence' - the hackers clique (selected from specialized forums for 'bad guys'). Two experimental profiles were created, using the same information (age, sex, interests), but different jobs - corresponding to those of the respondents. After being contacted, the participants were interviewed in order to determine what kind of information they would be willing to disclose to a person working in the same industry, but still unknown to them.

The results suggest that, no matter what 'side of the fence' they are on, people will behave the same: as though the virtual environment creates a second life, entirely different from the real one - they are willing not only to accept unknown persons inside their group just based on a nice profile, but also to reveal sensitive information (about their company, themselves and other persons) after a short online conversation. This applies to both categories of respondents even though they are aware of the risks such information disclosure would pose in real life.