By Declan Dunn, TechViews.org …..
As we learn more and more about security breaches by both malevolent and benevolent hackers, government agencies, and plain old annoying snoops, we are learning the importance of Internet Security.
Most of us already use a strong anti-virus product, malware removal software, firewalls, and encryption, there are still things that can be done for that extra security.
Here are a few that are usually ignored or overlooked when it comes to protecting yourself:
Use end-to-end encryption and ditch SMS on your smartphone
The interception of mobile phone calls and messages by all levels of law enforcement is increasing, whether using a Stingray-type device (which imitates a cell tower, causing phones to send it data instead) or more traditional tapping at the network level.
Because cellular phone calls and texts are wireless by nature, messages are incredibly easy to collect. Most all of our major cities now use such technology to overtly collect data, without a specific warrant necessary.
Yes, Big Brother is already here, and listening. The data collection centers watch for keywords that can easily be traced back to a specific phone, so watch what you say if your calls and texts are not encrypted.
They can’t do that if you’re using an app like Signal, which uses “end-to-end encryption,” preventing electronic snooping anywhere along the line – including on the service’s own servers and while the data is in transit between networks and devices.
This type of encryption is the bane of every authority because not only can they not see what is being sent, nor can the company that runs it, so the information can’t be subpoenaed or hacked out.
It may be a pain, but getting your family and friends switched over to one of these apps could prevent a lot of trouble down the line.
Some other options, if for some reason Signal doesn’t work: WhatsApp is a popular and versatile option, but it’s owned by Facebook, and while it’s technically independent, that still makes us nervous.
Apple’s iMessage is reliable and popular, but requires an iOS device or Mac. Apple is also under tremendous scrutiny, having been the subject of a much publicized quarrel with the FBI over opening a backdoor through encryption for the government to snoop on iPhone users.
Encrypt the contents of your computer and phone
If you’re on a major computing or mobile platform, encryption is available but may not be enabled by default. Windows has Bitlocker, Macs have FileVault – turning them on is simple (follow the instructions in those links) and it doesn’t change the way you use your computer at all.
The process is the same, more or less, on iOS and Android devices.
On Android, go to Settings>Security>Encrypt Phone and follow the instructions there. Some phones may have this enabled by default, but it’s good to check. On iOS, if you’ve set up a PIN or TouchID, your device is already encrypted – but if you skipped that step because you don’t like tapping a code every time you check your email, you might want to reconsider that choice now.
Get-home-safe apps are not just for children
Family members who have a need to work late, travelers, even adult partiers, have a need to let others know if they are running later than expected on their return home.
Also, part of the fun of social networks is the idea that you’re sharing with the world. But law enforcement also uses them as investigative tools, establishing whereabouts, work history, and anything else that your posts imply. Like anything you say to the police, this can and will be used against you, and if you have reason to think you may be targeted by them, you should make it difficult to be located. Making your account private is an easy way to do that, even if it’ll be harder to garner followers.
Preferences and Privacy Settings
Be sure to check your preferences and privacy settings in every app and service and opt out of things like default public check-ins or anything with “personalized,” “tailored,” or “curated” in it – it means they’re reading your data.
On Google, you should turn off (“pause”) your location history and opt out of other tracking measures in the search and ads areas. On your phone, you can turn off location services or restrict them per app. Using an alternative to Google, like DuckDuckGo, helps keep your browsing habits private.
Install HTTPS everywhere
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a plug-in for Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers that forces them to make a secure connection even when it isn’t the default for the website or service you’re connecting to. You’ll also be warned when the connection isn’t secure (browsers also tell you this, but not very loudly).
Keep your phone and PC software up to date
The latest versions of Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS don’t bring just the latest features, but also lots of fixes for serious security holes. These fixes will apply to a few of the previous versions, but not really old ones. Hackers – and the authorities – know this. If your phone and OS are new enough to take full advantage of encryption tools and resist well-known methods for unlocking and hacking, they’re secure against adversaries domestic and foreign.
It isn’t always easy to stay updated, but keep it in mind when buying a new phone or computer. If you’re on an OS more than a year or two old – before things like full-disk encryption were standard – you should consider updating at the earliest opportunity.
Use a VPN when possible
Virtual Private Networks obscure your internet traffic from your ISP and others by routing it through other servers first. If all your connections are to your VPN (which then passes it on to wherever it was headed), and your VPN doesn’t keep any records of those connections, there are far fewer ways for your browsing to be tracked.
Good VPNs cost money. We don’t recommend any VPN in particular, but it should be a VPN that plainly states that it doesn’t log your traffic. There are dozens to choose from both by subscription and free. The main difference is that the free versions are limited with their choices of nodes and outlets. Paid versions have faster through-put speeds, along with many more nodes and outlets to choose from.
Set up Firechat or another off-grid communication tool
While still technically wireless, off-grid communication tools offer direct communication without passing through regular internet channels. It can’t hurt to have an app like Firechat installed on your phone, which passes messages directly between devices. This is also useful in case of power outages and other disasters – a good emergency measure to take regardless.
This list is by no means complete, but if should give everyone a sample of ways to think about protecting the communication channels we take for granted.
Thanks to TechCrunch for providing suggestions for inclusion in this article.
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