Your Online SecurityNot a day goes by without the news carrying some story about a breach of cyber security. That's security of any device you have that uses either cell phone connections or the internet.
You probably have concerns about that. What's on your computer / tablet / phone that you wouldn't want the universe in general and your friends and family in particular to see? Anything?
Are you working on a novel? Do you want someone else to finish it and publish it before you do?
And what about those stupid pictures? Or those diary entries? Or your password list? Copies of your tax returns? Other financial data?
You probably have your own concerns about some of the files on your computer. You probably also have an old computer laying around somewhere. So what's the simplest way to protect yourself?
Your Ostrich Killer has a list of simple things you can do.
1. If you have a Windows-based computer, download and install Microsoft Security Essentials from microsoft.com onto your networked computer. It's free.
2. Dredge that old computer out of your closet and dust it off. Turn it on, see that it still works, but do NOT connect it to any network. Using the Network Manager in your 'My Computer' link, disable all network devices on that old computer.
3. Transfer ALL your files - documents, spreadsheets, tax returns, diaries, etc - anything you've created, in other words - to that old computer,using a USB stick or SD card. Do NOT use a shared drive! This old computer probably has older software. Good news: most programs are file-compatible backwards. That means if you're running, say, Office 2010 on your 'new' computer, the files you've created will still work in Office 2007 on your old computer. If you're uncertain, save those files on your 'new computer' in a file format compatible with your old computer's software before you transfer the files. It's a good policy to set your file format saving defaults on all software to be at least one generation older than the software supports.
4. Once you've accomplished this file transfer, do all your work from now on using this old computer. If you want to send a file you've created on your old computer out to the internet somewhere, copy it to a USB stick and transfer it to your 'new' computer, then send it.
5. It goes without saying that you need to set your computer to automatically lock itself after a few moments - I use 2 minutes - of inactivity so that you will have to log in to use it. That will help keep curious passers-by honest. Nothing keeps an honest man honest like the inability to be dishonest.
Pretty simple, yes? But there are catches, obvious ones:
1. Email and browsing and searching and facebooking cannot be kept hack-free by you, because all of them require being on the internet. You'll have to trust your providers to keep them secure. Good luck. BTW, going to the library to use their networked computers will do you little good: you still have to log in to your email or facebook or other accounts. Once you've done that - well, you get the picture.
2. That cell phone? Put nothing on it that you wouldn't want to see on the eleven o'clock news. Consider using it the same way you used a phone in 1980: leave it at home sitting on your desk. The world kept going around back then even when you were away from a phone. It still will. Good luck. Oh, a bit of news to some of you: a cell phone, even turned off, can be tracked. It can be listened to. It can take pictures. Its files can be viewed. Didn't know that? Now you do.
3. Tablets are basically worthless unless connected to wifi. Use them with the same caution you would use your cell phone. Do NOT buy a tablet that can use cell phone connectivity, for the reasons just outlined above. Wifi only, and keep that turned off until you want to use it. Walking into your local tavern, for example, with your tablet's wifi turned on will broadcast to any number of App providers (Angry Birds and others) your location. You want your habits to be known? You want your contact list copied? Some people don't care, others do. The good news is that both groups get to decide.
4. All digital devices that connect to a network have provisions for security. Use them. You don't want some stranger logging in to your banking app, for example, or email accounts should you forget and leave your device at the tavern.
That leaves one last device to secure: your car.
What? Your car? Yes, indeed. Does your car have Onstar or a similar, perhaps manufacturer-linked 'service?' That means you can be tracked even if you leave your cell phone at home. You can be listened to. Hell, an ad ran on TV a couple years ago advertising Onstar, where the cops were able to stop a stolen car by calling Onstar and having them disable it. You like that? Can you imagine how that could be used in a police state? That ad quietly disappeared, by the way. Your navigation system? Linked to. Addresses input to the system: linked to. So my advice, when you buy that next car, is to be hard-nosed about having NO devices in the car that can transmit ANYTHING. It's a car, after all, not a spy.
The feds understand you value your privacy. That's why they want to install more sophisticated 'black boxes' on all cars and vehicles.
Good luck. And now, one last cup of coffee.