How To Keep Your Online Data Safe
The best precautions you can take to keep your web surfing experience safe and secure…
How can you protect your online identity? What precautions can you take to prevent hackers reading your e-mail and IMs, filling your computer with spyware and tracking your Web-surfing habits?
The trick is to surf with caution and only communicate with people and Web sites you trust, while also making it as difficult as possible for people to listen.
You can do this by controlling your outbound traffic, encrypting your information and by keeping your identity anonymous.
Keeping Your Online Data Safe
Protect Your Computer
It is unlikely you will be attacked by a random hacker and more likely that sloppy Internet surfing habits and the programs that you’ve already installed on your PC will be the source of any viruses, spyware or malware. These malicious programs hunt out personal data from your system and pass them onto third parties without your consent.
Windows users stand a higher risk of being hacked, therefore should be most diligent about protecting their PC.
The first line of defense is against spyware is a firewall. This program counter acts spyware by preventing unapproved programs from accessing the Internet. Windows user will find a built-in firewall in XP and Vista, this is usually turned on by default – if not, then turn it on using the Controls Panel
There are several more sophisticated third-party firewall solutions including:
- Check Point’s Zone Alarm Pro
- AVG Internet Security with Firewall
- Symantec Norton Personal Firewall
- BlackICE PC Protection
- McAfee Personal Firewall Plus
Also built-in to Windows XP and Vista is a spyware scanner known as Windows Defender. This program will check to see if your machine has already been infiltrated by malware and can remove those offending programs.
There are also several third-party options for scanning and removing spyware, these include:
- LavaSoft’s AdAware
- Spybot Search and Destroy
- AVG Internet Security with Anti Spyware
- PC Tools Spyware Doctor
Because of its relatively low market, the Mac OS X has stayed one of the most secure systems. But no OS can be completely immune to attacks. Like Windows, OS X comes with a built-in firewall – you can check your firewall is on by opening System Preferences and checking Security settings.
To help protect against programs that send out your precious data, you can try installing LittleSnitch, this alerts you to any outbound traffic and highlights the offending program. For added security, a free online program called Trend Micro HouseCall will search your Mac for spyware.
Use Good Passwords
The simple fact is, the biggest security threats to your online privacy are your own bad habits.
As computers become more connected and more information is stored online, it becomes even more critical that we follow good password practices.
This means no simple words like family names, pet names, famous names, sports teams, favorite places, etc, and no passwords containing only numbers.
Many sites which require a password to sign-in have a password meter which displays the strength of your password as you type. Remembering long complicated passwords can be a hassle but it’s a major line of defense for all users so should be adhered to.
Encrypt Your Data
Even once you are tooled up with secure passwords, firewalls and spyware checkers, there is still a chance that your machine can be hacked.
If you require bulletproof protection, the best defense is encryption. Encryption algorithms are what the government and other large corporations use to protect top-secret documents and trade secrets.
TrueCrypt encryption software is free open source download that helps you do this by encrypting files as you drag and drop them onto the drive.
You should also try to encrypt your Wi-Fi router to help ensure you are the only person accessing your network. WPA encryption is more secure than the older WEP, so use this option where available.
Secure Your Email and IM
The most insecure thing that most of us do every day is send an email. When you send an email, you are sending a plain text document that travels through a maze of computer networks before finally arriving at the recipient’s mailbox. At any point during its journey, the email can be read by anyone who intercepts it. You can think of email as a postcard, it will arrive at the given address, but there are a lot of mailmen who could read it along the way. The best way to secure your emails is to encrypt them.
Mozilla’s Thunderbird email software has an extension called Enigmail which can help you do this. Once the extension is installed, your mails will generate a public key, to be shared with the recipient’s of outgoing mail, and a private key which decrypts incoming emails. Anyone else trying to snoop in on your email will see a spool of alphanumeric gibberish.
But encrypted emails still reveal some information about their origin. To completely cloak your email’s data trail you will need to use an anonymous remailer. This makes it impossible for a recipient to learn things about you from technical information stored in the e-mail header.
Another internet application which is often attacked it instant messenger. By downloading the multiservice IM app GAIM and installing the GAIM encryption plug-in, you can make sure your conversation is encrypted from praying eyes. Anyone receiving encrypted IM’s will also need the GAIM encryption package installed, but it will keep your messages safe en route.
Secure Your Browser
It is common practice for log-in websites to ask for personal information when signing up, those cautious users tread with care only signing up to well respected and popular websites. But how can you be sure that information a site is collecting will not be given out?
To keep any site you visit from tracking your behavior elsewhere, you can disable the cookies in your browser settings. This may however, disable some web pages features such as Amazon Suggestions, it can also reduce the accuracy of those search engines that refine results based on previous searches.
For further security you can encrypt your web surfing activities, by making your web traffic anonymous you can guarantee that even your Internet Service Provider doesn’t know what you’re up to. The Tor Project is a network of computers that allows you to encrypt your web surfing by simply installing a software package and configuring it.
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