My recent post, “A Hacker’s Story: Let me tell you just how easily I can steal your personal data,” is pretty popular. It really showed people how easy it is for even a young journalist with almost no hacking experience to get their personal data. Now that people are aware of this, what can you do? Is there a way to stop this kind of thing?
Yes—but it’s not easy.
I’ve compiled a list of tips, software and hacks that will help you keep your private data to yourself while browsing the web. You don’t have to use all of these, but just remember, the more you use, the safer your data is.
Keep an eye out for phishing
Phishing is the practice of making a fake website in the hopes of getting your log in information. A person will make a website that looks exactly like the Facebook log-in page then send you an e-mail saying you need to sign in to change some security settings. The site will look legit but It wont let you sign in (usually giving you a fake error.)
If you get an e-mail from a service asking you to log-in, NEVER click the link in the e-mail. Instead go to the web browser and type the address of the site in normally.
This is how most MSN viruses are spread these days. Instead of putting a piece of software on your computers like they did in the olden days, they instead farm usernames and passwords then sign into them all and spam everyone.
Browse with Tor
As you browse the web you may have noticed those dumb ads that yell “YOU’RE BROADCASTING YOUR IP!!” And though the ads are stupid, they have a point. You are actually broadcasting your IP address and a lot of information (including your current location) can be taken from that.
This also means that when you post something (such as on a forum) that information is posted with it. If someone doesn’t like what you posted it is possible (though rare) that they can find you. Though to be honest the only people with the ability to do this are usually part of the government (FBI or Police.) Which is one way they find child pornography rings.
To protect your whereabouts and keep your IP private, you can use a service called ‘TOR’ or ‘The Onion Routing Network.’ It basically sends your connection through three different computers all over the world. Meaning if someone traces your IP they will find a computer in Japan, for example, instead of yours. This system is used by journalist in unfriendly areas that need to send information or to keep their sources anonymous. It can also be used for general privacy.
Tor is relatively easy to set up but must be done a different way depending on your operating system and browser. Simply go to TorProject.org for information on how to set it up with your current system.
Warning: You probably don’t want to use Tor at all times. Many websites don’t work well with Tor and the network has been banned on many services. It will also slow down your browsing considerably. You can set up a ‘Tor Button’ that will turn it on with a click of a button so that you only use it when you need to and turn it off for regular browsing.
Encrypt your harddrive
The past few tips have been what to do to defend yourself online, but what about offline? What’s to stop someone from stealing your computer and getting all the information they need. This is where harddrive encryption comes in to play.
Encryption turns your data into random numbers and letters, it is then reorganized using a key-phrase you create. This can be done on each file if need be but can also be done on your entire hard drive, making it near impossible for thieves to get your data.
There are many ways to do this but the simplest by far is to use Trucrypt. Truecrypt works on all operating systems and is very easy to install and use. For starters head over to Truecrypt.org and download the installer for your operating system. From there follow the instructions available on the website.
Remember to use a strong password to thwart a dictionary attack.
Install Spybot search and destroy or similar
It is possible that while browsing the web a company was able to install ‘spyware’ on to your computer. This software tracks everything about you. Your location, the sites you visit, everything. You have to get rid of this stuff.
One of the best programs for just this use is called Spybot: Seach and Destroy. It will seek out and obliterate the offending software, keeping your private information safe. The best part is that the program is completely free to use. There are other programs that do this, just do some research and you’ll find plenty. Many of these programs charge for their services.
Keep windows up to date
My final bit of advice is to keep your operating system up to date. There are almost always security holes popping up in Windows and the other systems that are later closed with security updates. A lot of people choose to skip these updates which leaves their computer open for people to steal their information.