Digital Tools to Curb Snooping

Photo credit: 123RF

Photo credit: 123RF

One of the most devastating things that can happen to a person is to have financial or personal information stolen. Identity theft can happen in many ways – through a vehicle break-in, stolen wallet, compromised credit card, stolen mail, or hacked computer. Although there is no full-proof method to completely guard against your risk of identity theft, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce your chances and make it a lot less easy for thieves to obtain your information.

Protecting your digital privacy is one of these steps. Any personal information you enter or store online is not necessarily yours to control – despite “privacy settings” and protections put in place by companies to protect it.

For example, a thief could hack your computer and obtain your banking information. Or, he could grab an unencrypted social security number stored in a doctor office’s computer. Furthermore, the National Security Agency could order an email provider to unlock correspondence; even the phone company could supply the police with a map of your past whereabouts.

Much of this information can be readily obtained or traced through your cell phone, though there are not many of us who would be willing to part with ours to avoid such a disaster! Though there are no fail-proof technological tricks to avoid this kind of digital exposure, there are a variety of tools that can minimize your digital footprint, and guard and protect you from would-be thieves or from information being taken without your knowledge and permission.

Some of these tools cost money, often making digital privacy only for those who can afford it. Others are free. But none of them are available to you without first becoming aware that these security risks exist and are becoming more commonplace, and then researching the various services and products available to lessen this threat.

You may say, “But I don’t have anything to hide.” Keep in mind, though, that your computer history and private conversations are indeed readily available to those who wish to obtain them, and who are willing to go to whatever lengths it takes to do so.


Internet privacy is key to protecting your business.
Photo credit: Dreamstime

Below are five tips that can help you protect your online privacy and keep your digital information secure.

Arm Yourself

1) Protect your password. Never use the same password on multiple sites.

Following this advice can become complicated given the number of websites requiring a password to log in or place an order. It is often overwhelming, and difficult to create and keep track, of so many different passwords.

However, by keeping strong and safe passwords you can better protect your accounts. To make generating and safely storing multiple passwords much easier, consider using a password manager. This computer program creates random passwords and stores them in an encrypted “safe,” to which only you have the key – usually in the form of a master password. Several password managers are available, including Dashlane, LastPass, and RoboForm. Some programs work better than others on mobile devices. Apple’s new operating system, iOS7, includes a “password generator” which can create unique and complex passwords and remember them for you, syncing them to all of your apple devices using 256 bit encryption.

Another worthwhile safeguard to put in place is two-factor authentication. This is an option now offered by many larger web companies such as Paypal, Google, Yahoo, and the recently breached LinkedIn. If you turn on two-factor authentication, when you enter your user name and password a code is sent to your phone by voice mail or text message. The service then requires that you enter the sent code. It takes extra time to set up and use this system, but far less than it would take to restore your personal and financial information! So consider this a step worth taking, especially if you frequently use the services of a company such as LinkedIn.

2) Trick those who are tracking you. Keep your browser history to yourself.

Whether you want to avoid online criminals or unwanted advertising and marketing, there are several options for keeping your browser history private. Tracker blocking tools let you see which companies are tracking your activities on the web, and to block them if you wish. Ghostery, Disconnect, and Abine are some of the popular blocking tools. Some browser makers even offer consumers a way to block third-party cookies – tiny pieces of code that track the places you visit on the web.

It is possible to take much stronger steps to hide your online tracks. Tor is one of the most popular programs for this purpose. Originally developed for the Navy, and used by agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tor’s browser prevents websites from knowing who you are by rerouting web traffic through a series of other points. For instance, using Tor with your email service would most likely prevent a government agency from detecting your Internet Protocol address. Still, it likely would not deter a service provider from turning over your messages.

Other kinds of operating systems require equivalent programs, such as Orbot for the Android, yet no tracker blocking tool exists for iOS.

In addition to blocking tools, you can also use a VPN to help blur your web activity by obscuring your browsing history to others, including your internet service provider. Be aware, however, that some VPNs log your internet traffic, creating a rich history of your web travels. To prevent this record from being compiled, HTTPS Everywhere can be employed as a browser extension that takes you to secure, encrypted versions of websites wherever possible. This is a helpful tool to have in place, for instance, to prevent eavesdroppers when you are using public Wi-Fi.

If you do not want Google or Bing to compile your search history data, there is also the upstart search engine called DuckDuckGo. Having no interest in saving user search history, this company simply shows advertisements right at that moment based on the keywords searched and then immediately discards the search history. Since the data doesn’t exist, if for example the government would ask for user information, there would be nothing to hand over.

3) Trust the Cloud. Employ services to encrypt files.

The digital cloud has changed the way legal inquiries are conducted. In place of obtaining search warrants to inspect work files, now police can simply tap into the cloud service being used to store work files.

SpiderOak provides a service that keeps your data private while keeping it secure. The company cannot offer anything legible in the case of these legal inquiries since its customers’ files are not only encrypted, but even users’ plain text passwords are not transmitted to the company.

4) Keep conversations private. Employ services which offer encryption for email, phone, and messaging.

Just because an email provider promises your emails are encrypted and safeguarded does not prevent them from being read by someone who really wants to gain access. From the moment an email message is sent it travels throughout the internet and is vulnerable to theft. Additionally, email providers can be ordered to unlock the correspondence — whether through a search warrant from police or other intelligence agencies.

Lack of user privacy can sometimes come in unexpected ways. As recently reported on CNN, hackers have figured out how to “abuse the browser” using extra code to turn the camera on in your browser when you are watching your Smart TV. This security breach allows hackers to actually see you on your side of the screen, as well as to obtain bank information such as account numbers when you use your device for banking purposes. Samsung offers safety precaution recommendations, among which include employing encryption devices.

There are many encryption services for email communications; as well as for phone, text messaging, file transfer, and video chats – though they can be complicated to use. Examples of systems and companies that provide encryption services are Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), Silent Circle, TextSecure, Off-the-Record (OTR), RedPhone, and KoolSpan.

5) Remember the basics. Keep software updated, no matter how inconvenient the notice to update seems at the time.

Even the most advanced privacy tools may not work if the basics are ignored. Sometimes users disregard the most basic safeguard of all – keeping software updated. Yet each time a software update is released many known security bugs are also fixed in the process.

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Photo credit: CanStockPhoto

No matter what your privacy and security needs, Provident Technology can help you sort through the endless options available. We offer complete Network Assessment to address any concerns and issues you currently have, as well as to identify any potential new issues. We determine how your network is running, and locate any security risks that could damage your business. From there, we put into place the necessary protection you need to keep your company’s IT network secure.

Provident Technology is offering new clients a full Network Assessment absolutely free! Contact us today to get your Network Assessment started and arm yourself!