5 Tips for Paranoid People on the Internet

Internet Security

Do you remember that old quote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you?” It seems like it is becoming more and more relevant every day. Almost weekly, a new scandal emerges from Big Tech, detailing the wholesale trading and theft of our personal information. But aside from all the headline-grabbing, one-off incidents, the much bigger concern is the day to day invasions of our privacy that are just standard policy for many of these companies.

In fact, it’s how they make most of their money.

Add to this the ever increasing and complex systems of government surveillance and tracking (most of which we’ll probably never really learn about), and you can be forgiven for feeling like you’re being watched every second you’re online.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who feel the same. Many are finding ways and creating tools to help all of us stay safe and maintain our privacy while using the internet. The quick, simple steps that follow will block you from the most invasive spying and tracking on the internet, boost your privacy, and keep you safe.

1. Purge your Facebook

There may be no other organization that has become more notorious with invasions of privacy as quickly as Facebook. In just a couple of years, Mark Zuckerberg and his company seem to have completely fallen from grace in the eyes of many politicians, security experts and, indeed, users. They have been (justifiably?) blamed for stoking genocide in Myanmar, Brexit, numerous mental health crises, and even destroying the foundations of human society.

These examples may seem extreme, but there is no denying that Facebook has capitalized on the monetization and manipulation of their customers’ personal data like no other company operating today. The most simple step you can take to avoid Facebook’s reach is to delete your account (Instagram too, which Facebook own). If this isn’t possible, there are few ways to reduce its impact on your internet browsing. Here are a few browser extensions that will quickly limit many of the platform’s tools for tracking your activity and boost your privacy.

  1. Disconnect Facebook
  2. uBlock and
  3. Newsfeed Eradicator

2. Use Tor Browser

While Google claims that incognito mode will keep your browsing activity and identity private, it is still part of the Google ecosystem – so you can never be completely sure. You might want to try alternatives to Google Chrome, Safari, and their competitors by using the Tor Browser. Tor is a web browser dedicated to maximum online privacy. Using 3 layers of encryption, Tor completely masks your identity by anonymizing your location, browser, and activity and batching it all together with every other Tor user. So essentially, you become lost in the virtual crowd. This also means that the more popular Tor grows, the more effective it is at hiding you.

Tor is one of the most popular tools amongst online activists, journalists, political dissidents in repressive governments, and security experts. Follow their lead and start using it today.

For ultimate online privacy, combine Tor with a VPN.

3. Use a VPN based outside of the 14 eyes

Installing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your devices is by far the easiest and most effective step to take if you want to increase your online privacy. You can’t be spied on if they can’t find you – and that’s where a VPN comes in handy. A VPN uses military grade encryption, IP masking and other tools to hide your online activity while on both private and public networks. This helps keep your location hidden, your data safe from leaking or theft, and your browsing activity secret from corporate and governmental tracking.

To go a step further, make sure that your VPN provider is outside the jurisdictions of the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance.

4. Try to avoid using Smart Home Products

It’s actually quite surprising that the recent story about 1,000s of Amazon employees listening to customers through their Alexa devices didn’t receive greater news coverage. Maybe it just shows how desensitized we’ve all become to such stories. It also shouldn’t be too surprising to anybody concerned with online privacy. Since the earliest days of smart home devices, security experts have been warning us about the ease with which they can be hacked and used to spy on households. Companies like Amazon may only be listening in for marketing purposes, but plenty of criminals are using them to track your routines and steal your identity.

The most effective way to be sure nobody is spying on you in your own home, through your smart devices, is to avoid using them altogether.

5. Start using Cryptocurrency for Payments

If you can ignore all the hype and noise around Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies’ rollercoaster prices, and focus instead on its core principles and uses, you’ll understand how it is a great tool for online financial privacy. Aside from companies tracking your online purchases and using this to manipulate you into buying more stuff, online financial fraud is one of the biggest, ever-present aspects of using the internet. From the very first online transactions, conmen, fraudsters, and thieves have been finding ways to extract money from your bank accounts and credit cards.

One way to shield yourself from this happening is to separate your online transactions from your bank accounts. This is one of the many uses of Cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. Despite what many people will tell you, Bitcoin is not 100% anonymous. However, by using a Bitcoin address to pay for online goods and services, and taking extra measures like shuffling your purchases amongst multiple bitcoin addresses, you can add a layer of privacy to your online transactions not possible with traditional banks and credit cards.

It can sometimes feel like maintaining privacy while using the internet is a crazy, unrealistic dream. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. By taking the simple, quick steps outlined here, you can easily boost not just your online privacy, but also safety from hacks, data leaks, and other forms of cybercrime. Using the internet will feel a lot less like you’re under siege from advertisers, governments and other shady figures, and free to browse in complete anonymity.

How to make yourselves opaque to Google

Anyone with a Google account will know about Google’s new privacy policy by now. I’ll refresh the information for the non-google (sounds like an oxymoron?) lot and also to those who have dismissed the new privacy policy without reading. The new privacy policy goes into effect from March 1st, 2012. The policy can be defined in simple terms as, “Whatever you do in any of the Google Websites the other Google Websites will know about it!”

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Apple’s Passcode-Based Security Fairly Useless

Apple’s security as of late is as effective as a one-armed man clapping. Not only can anyone access a password-protected iPad if it has a Smart Cover, Apple’s new brainchild Siri can be used to pilfer personal information despite a passcode lock.

Damn You Siri

A fatal flaw in Siri was recently discovered, tarnishing the reputation of the iPhone’s newest claim to fame. The flaw allows anyone to access an iPhone via voice-activated commands despite screen and password locks, access that includes personal information. By hitting the home screen button a person, using Siri, could have access to texts, the calendar and other services — all without having to unlock the home screen.

Email luckily is not accessible, “the positive thing is that accessing some of the more sensitive services in this manner, such as email, is forbidden,” says Alan Goode of Goode Intelligence, a mobile security firm. “But I could still run up a pretty impressive and annoying phone bill if I had malicious intent and if Apple missed this pretty easy to find vulnerability then what other security threats are hiding in Apple’s latest mobile OS?”.

Users can protect themselves from Siri by manually disabling the option to enable Siri at the password lock. The default setting however makes users vulnerable and should never have been the default to begin with.

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WatchMe 911 – your personal protection system

WatchMe 911 (iTunes Link) is a personal protection system, with four customizable alert modes, seven alarm sounds, a flashlight and GPS tracking available. With two taps, it can connect you to the people you trust when you need it most. The app was designed primarily for women, but some of the alert modes are valuable for hikers, runners, and cyclists, whether male or female. Currently, the app is limited to the United States.

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Is the Future of BlackBerry Secure in the Corporates?

In recent times, the ubiquity of RIM’s award winning smartphone BlackBerry has been shrinking, thanks to companies providing an option of allowing their employees to add third-party security applications to their own picked up or chosen smart phones. This certainly gives the employees the freedom to opt for their own smart phone and in addition they take on more responsibility for security. Companies offering such applications such as Good Technology and Mobile Iron are thus intruding Blackberry’s mainstay in the corporate market.

The USP of Blackberry has been Research In Motion’s top tier security and appealing management features helping the top notch Business Firms and IT managers to control the corporate information they share with their employees, thus helping to avoid any cyber attacks on their businesses. But, analysts at CCS Insight are of the opinion that the consumer market is repeating itself in the enterprise market. People tend to and want to use the technology in their work life they use in their daily personal lives.

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Google’s Transformer product line is building a Microsoft-slaying open-source Optimus Prime

If you’re a tech geek like me you undoubtedly follow Google – and you also probably know all the transformers by heart. By using Transformers as an allegory we can put Google’s transformation into context.

Google has been acquiring companies, technology and people — aggressively, and now they are joining them all together to build a super-powered Microsoft fighting machine. And they now have Microsoft’s Decepticons in their sights. In fact if you look at Google’s product line, you begin to see that Google is purposefully encroaching into Microsoft territory -gearing up for the battle Royale of the decade.

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Your Android could be Exposing YOU!

The private eye has discovered that Android devices are no longer a safe haven for your personal information. The private eye is a German University – University of Ulm, which claims that more than 99% of all smartphones that run Google’s Android operating system are susceptible to mobile hackers. An unencrypted Wi-Fi network is the little window needed by mobile hackers to gain access to everything that is important in your life.

Google Calendar, Twitter, Facebook et al are vulnerable to an impersonation attack. This discovery is a follow up to Rice University professor Dan Wallach’s blog post in February that mentioned the nature and magnanimity of this threat. Even though Android devices are being retracted or updated, the process will be a success only if all the devices are freed from this shortcoming, otherwise the catastrophe will be unimaginable. The bug has been fixed in Android 2.3.4 and 3.0 (for smartphones) – the latest version of the operating system – the bulk of mobile carriers and handset manufacturers have not yet issued an update. “We are aware of this issue, have already fixed it for calendar and contacts in the latest versions of Android, and we’re working on fixing it in Picasa”, said a Google representative in an e-mail statement. Another issue this raises is the need for better update practices in Android hardware vendors.

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It’s Microsoft’s “Patch Tuesday” today!

It is going to be a busy week for all the IT professionals since Microsoft is going to deliver a record patch that addresses 64 security vulnerabilities. There will be patches for bugs in Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Visual Studio, GDI+ and .NET framework. In this update, the most frequently used office applications like Excel (2003-2010) and Powerpoint (2002-2010) will also be affected. There will be 17 bulletins, of which more than half, that is nine, are critical. The critical bulletins will affect all Windows systems including Server 2008 and Windows 7 and hence Microsoft urges system administrators to plan for a deployment.

Pete Voss, a senior response communication manager at Microsoft says that according to the assessment of Microsoft, the vulnerability could theoretically allow remote code execution. However, he adds that such an event is extremely unlikely and no evidence of attacks have been recorded so far. Apart from the 9 critical bulletins out of 17, the other 8 bulletins are marked to be important. Among those rated as important is a fix for the MHTML script injection vulnerability in Windows. The security bulletins will be released by Microsoft at about 1 pm EDT on 12th April.

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Hackers find new Cybercrime Currency

If 90s hacker movies taught us anything it’s that hackers are benevolent human beings looking not to corporate espionage but solely for freedom of information. But — the 90s are over.

According to a new study (PDF) by security firm McAfee, hackers have resurfaced and are hacking into corporate networks to steal corporate information –private information that has been called the new Cybercrime currency. The “Underground Economies” report from McAfee stated that in 2010 attacks were focused mainly on industrial espionage and came primarily from the Stuxnet virus. The large majority of the 2011 attacks however, dubbed the Night Dragon attacks (which began in 2009), were focused on major oil companies. These multi-pronged attacks are well coordinated and aimed at stealing sensitive corporate information.

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Textually Transmitted Diseases on the Rise

Yes — we have officially entered the age of the Textually Transmitted Disease. Last September a virus spread across China, infecting more than 1 million smartphones. This virus dubbed ‘Zombie‘ infiltrated phones and began sending spam messages using the phone’s address book. While this is still shy of being a full-blown TTD, we are well on our way.

Internet security companies expect these viruses to spike as smartphone sales and use increases. Top security firm McAfee has reported that mobile phone malware increased by 46% from 2009 to 2010. Other Internet security companies have noticed the spike as well and attribute much of it to the vulnerabilities in the apps and widgets. ViaForensics noted that even the more famous apps have security flaws including Groupon, Facebook and Mint.com. In fact a large number of the 11 billion+ apps downloaded last year put users information at risk, as do 10 out of the 12 email apps tested.

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