10 ways to keep your personal data safe from online snoopers

Posted on Posted in IT, Security

Can you hide from people that you don’t want to looking you up ?


So you think your perosnal data is safe from the on-line snoopers and your antivirus, anti malware, anti spyware is on sentry duty. Its a sad state of affairs as we see more and more middle east and Russia state countries allowing hacker to attack us and our countries systems. You do need to take a few more steps and not completely rely on software ( Anti virus and security products ) to stop software hackers from accessing your personal data. Here is just 10 ways to keep your personal data safe, but they are the 10 easiest ways to keep your data safe.

1 Email

Rethink your email setup. Assume that all “free” email and webmail services (Gmail etc) are suspect. Be prepared to pay for a service, such as Fastmail,that is not based in the US – though some of its servers are in New York with backups in Norway. (My hunch is that more non-US email services will appear as entrepreneurs spot the business opportunity ) It would also be worth checking that your organisation has not quietly outsourced its email and IT systems to Google or Microsoft – as many UK organisations (including newspapers and universities) have.

The real difficulty with email is that while there are ways of keeping the content of messages private (see encryption below), the “header data” that goes with the message (the “envelope”, as it were) can be very revealing, and there’s no way of encrypting that because its needed by the internet routing system and is available to most security services without a warrant.

2 Encryption

Encryption used to be the sole province of geeks and mathematicians, but a lot has changed in recent years. In particular, various publicly available tools have taken the rocket science out of encrypting (and decrypting) email and files. GPG for Mail, for example, is an open source plug-in for the Apple Mail program that makes it easy to encrypt, decrypt, sign and verify emails using the OpenPGP standard. And for protecting files, newer versions of Apple’s OS X operating system come with FileVault, a program that encrypts the hard drive of a computer. Those running Microsoft Windows have a similar program. This software will scramble your data, but won’t protect you from government authorities demanding your encryption key under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), which is why some aficionados recommend TrueCrypt, a program with some very interesting facilities, which might have been useful to David Miranda.

3 Web browsing

Since browsing is probably what internet users do most, it’s worth taking browser security and privacy seriously. If you’re unhappy that your clickstream (the log of the sites you visit) is in effect public property as far as the security services are concerned, you might consider using freely available tools such as Tor Browser to obscure your clickstream. And to protect yourself against the amazingly brazen efforts by commercial companies to track your online behaviour you should, at the very minimum, configure your browser so that it repels many of these would-be boarders.

That said some of the techniques to hide your web browsing, are being used by unscrupulous and exploitive individuals  to hide their illegal browsing so I would never recommend you use these back door or dark internet solutions as you could be exposed to other nasties.


4 Cloud services

Our consultants have mixed thoughts when it comes to cloud services. You can guarentee your security is minimal if you take on a nyfree cloud services (Dropbox, iCloud, Evernote, etc) that are based in the US, the UK, France and other jurisdictions known to be tolerant of NSA-style snooping. Your working assumption should be that anything stored on such systems is potentially accessible by others. And if you must entrust data to them, make sure it’s encrypted.

5 File storage and archiving

An option that an increasing numbers of people are exploring is running their own personal cloud service using products such as PogoPlug and Transporter that provide Dropbox-type facilities, but on internet connected drives that you own and control. And if you carry around confidential data on a USB stick, make sure it’s encrypted using TrueCrypt.

6 Social networking

Delete your Facebook account. Why do the CIA’s work for it? And if you must use it, don’t put your date of birth on your profile. Why give identity thieves an even break? And remember that, no matter what your privacy settings, you don’t have control over information about you that is posted by your “friends”.

7 Location data

Avoid using services such as FourSquare that require location information.

8 Wireless services

Have Bluetooth off by default in all your mobile devices. Only switch it on when you explicitly need to use it. Otherwise you’ll find that even a dustbin can snoop on it. Similarly, beware of using open wifi in public places. At the very minimum, make sure that any site you interact with uses HTTPS rather than unencrypted HTTP connections. If you don’t then anyone nearby can use Firesheep to see everything you’re doing.

9 Personal security

Forget password, think passphrase – ie a meaningless sentence that you will remember – and do some transformations on it (first and third letters of every word maybe) so that you can generate a stronger password from it every time. Or use a password-management app like LastPass or 1Password. And if a service offers multi-factor authentication, make use of it.

10 Search engines

All the big search engines track your search history and build profiles on you to serve you personalised results based on your search history. if you want to escape from this “filter bubble” you need to switch to a search engine that does not track your inquiries. The most obvious one is the bizarrely named but quite effective DuckDuckGo.

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