5 Ways To Improve Computer Privacy

With the recent revelations of the US spying on its citizens via PRISM, it is clear that we need to take more precautions with our computers. The NSA has been collecting information from companies like Google, Facebook and Apple as well as millions of ordinary Americans who use these services every day. But there are also numerous ways in which ordinary users can be targeted by criminals or governments. If you want to stay safe, then you should follow this advice to ensure better computer privacy.
Here are five things you can do to make sure your computer keeps all of your personal information private.

  1. Be Careful what you click
    If you browse the web using Firefox, Chrome, or any other browser, I recommend installing an add-on called Click & Clean. This program makes it easy to see where sites send your personal details such as email address and credit card number when you sign up, so you know not to enter them into forms without checking first. It won’t protect you against phishing attacks, but it’ll help prevent identity theft by making it easier to spot malicious links before they get too far.
    You can learn out more about Click & Clean at http://www.clickandclean.com
  2. You are a target to hackers
    Most threats to online safety come from within your own home network, especially from people sitting next to you while you surf the Web. Hackers often try to steal login credentials over public Wi-Fi networks or even open wireless connections running in your house. They may install keylogging tools on your PC to record everything you type including usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.
    To avoid getting caught out, check whether your router supports WPA encryption. A lot of modern routers support WPS instead, which uses pre-shared keys rather than entering pass codes. However, WPS isn’t strong enough to stop someone stealing your username and password. Make sure you don’t use WPS unless you absolutely trust the source.
    It may work on older devices, but Windows 7 and later automatically disable WPS, so turn it off completely. Make sure your home Wi-Fi router isn’t using the default admin username and password.
  3. Keep software up to date
    Many viruses now look for outdated versions of popular applications, so keeping the latest updates installed is one way to reduce risk. Also, most malware targets vulnerabilities in old code.
    So always run any regular virus scans immediately after downloading new software, no matter how big the download size seems. Don’t ignore alerts about problems — delete suspicious files from disk, disconnect USB drives and update operating system patches. Even though you might think you’ve taken care of the problem yourself, antivirus packages usually deal with bigger issues faster anyway. And remember, just because something looks legit doesn’t mean it’s actually legitimate!
    Checking for software updates regularly helps protect you from bugs and errors introduced during development. Plus, if a developer needs access to your microphone or webcam, you’d probably prefer not to permit it.
    Also, pay attention to notifications about expired certificates. These indicate that the server certificate used to encrypt traffic between your machine and the website is vulnerable to hacking. Check if the site offers HTTPS and renew the SSL certificate right away.
  4. Practice good password management
    Weak passwords aren’t only bad for security – they’re extremely annoying. Use long strings of letters, symbols and capitalization characters rather than short words you could guess. Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. Consider writing down your passwords and storing them securely somewhere else (like a hardware wallet). Never share passwords with friends or colleagues.
    And never write your passwords down anywhere — those scraps of paper in your purse or wallet are easily lost, misplaced, or stolen. Instead, use a password manager application that lets you create complex passwords and store them safely encrypted behind a master password. Most offer auto-fill capabilities to save time typing in frequent logins. Some apps even allow you to lock sensitive folders so unauthorized users cannot view your documents.
    See Chris Hoffman’s excellent overview of popular password managers for more info.
  5. Safeguard Protected Data
    Another important thing to consider is protecting your hard drive with a file shredding utility. In addition to removing traces of deleted files, shredders overwrite blocks of data with junk patterns until the OS overwrites them again. As a result, recovering information erased with a typical deletion tool requires sophisticated forensic techniques.
    Shredders are particularly useful for deleting temporary internet cookies. Cookies contain valuable tracking information and leaving them around creates risks for future sessions. Since browsers typically cache images downloaded for fast re-downloads, shredding those images removes evidence of your browsing history. Shredders are available free for Windows XP through 8.x, macOS, Linux, Android 4+ and iOS 5+. Many mobile phone manufacturers include their own built-in utilities for securely wiping local storage memory cards.
    For maximum protection, it’s wise to combine physical destruction methods (such as destroying discs) with anti-forensic measures (such as erasing SSD sectors). For example, you can erase entire partitions using a dedicated partition editor, but doing so leaves traces of sector writes remaining that forensics experts can piece together to recover your previous contents.
    A final tip is to back up your data frequently, preferably daily. That way, if anything happens to your computer, you still have copies stored elsewhere.