by Derrick Krane
Before you start reading, try this: Google your full name with middle initial, and the state you live in. What did you find? Your home address? Your phone number? Where you work? A map to your home?
The amount of information that is available on us is enormous, and disturbing. Our lives are exposed and wide open on the internet. Prior to about 1995, if you wanted information on someone, it was not easy. You would have to search in a phone book in the city in which they lived, so you would need to know at least their citywide location.
You could call information, get their phone number, and possibly address. If you wanted more than that, you would have to go to the town or county hall of records and search manually through binders or microfilm. You might have to sign in.
It could take anywhere from minutes if you were lucky, to hours, to several days to find what you were looking for as you dug through records. If you were their more than an hour, you would get noticed.
You would also have to be very determined to keep looking for more than an hour or two. An alternative would be to hire a private detective to look on your behalf.
Today, all you need is a device, a Wi-Fi connection, and a few seconds, and everyone’s life history will be laid bare in front of you.
Your online activity is monitored by advertisers who want your demographics so they can market their products and services to you. Law enforcement may monitor your activities. It is an automatic response to say, well if you are not doing anything wrong you don’t have to worry about it.
OK, I agree with part of that. Don’t do things you know are illegal, and educate yourself about what on-line activities are illegal if you want to be a law abiding civilian. However, there is a more complex dynamic at work here.
Social psychology studies long ago established that human behavior changes under observation. Many studies since the original, seminal research has confirmed this over and over. If you know you are being watched, or may be watched, you will alter your behavior.
This is an impingement on your freedom of choice. With the utmost respect for the fine men and women in law enforcement, they are human, meaning they are fallible and flawed, as am I, and as we all are. The system they work in is flawed and packed with shortcomings.
The last thing you need is to find yourself in a position where you will have to defend yourself against criminal charges stemming from a misunderstanding or overzealous prosecutors.
Even worse, you will be tried, convicted, and sentenced in the Supreme Court of social media, where there is no appeal process. Regardless of whether you did it or not, you did it. The truth is whatever people think it is.
You have the right to decide who you will let in. here are some tools to enhance your privacy. Keep in mind that none of these methods are flawless. They will also have improved utility when multiple methods are combined, as a series of overlapping security features.
In another article, I have explored the concept of becoming Hard to Kill, attributed to Tim Kennedy. Let’s take this is another direction: If someone wants to hack into your computer or monitor your internet activity, committing electronic theft and assault, make sure they have to work harder for it than anything they have ever done.
Layer 1: Search Engines, passwords, and updates
Start with your search engine. I have not used google in a long time, as they are the most notorious for information gathering. There are other search engines that do not collect your private data.
Startpage is one option. It is fast and can access huge amounts of information. Another option, which is the ultimate in on line security, is Tor, which uses a series of randomly unpredictable bounces from one server to the next, around the world. This makes for slow but very secure browsing.
IP (Internet Provider) hiders
Your computer is constantly sending out your IP (Internet Provider) address every time you go on line. The city and state in which you are sending from, a unique number identifying your computer, and your internet service provider will all be sent to whatever site you are visiting. An IP hider will bounce your IP to another location or otherwise generate a decoy.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A VPN will perform several security functions, including masking or altering your IP address, and hiding your location. VPNs create a private communications tunnel, instead of broadcasting your internet use for almost anyone to see. For instructions on setting up a VPN, click here.
There are also VPN extensions available for Firefox users:
Make a long password, more than 8 characters, using misspelled nonsense phrases, in a combination of numbers and characters, and upper and lowercase letters.
Do not use the same password for every site you access.
Change your password frequently.
You can check the strength of your password in terms of how long it would take a computer to crack it on several sites:
Keep your computer fresh by installing updates as recommended. Many of these updates contain security patches.
Layer 2: Ad blockers
Every site you visit will be noted and advertisements tailored to your browsing habits will be recorded. Future sites you visit will display these ads.
Why is this big deal? Ads are another form of surveillance. Your browsing habits can also be sold to other advertisers. They also slow your browser down, and can be intrusive when you are trying to work. Two of my favorite and minimally intrusive ad blockers are.
Layer 3: Antivirus software, spam blockers, and disc cleaners
A virus is a malignant piece of software that is loaded on to your computer without your knowledge or consent. A virus may gather your confidential information such as passwords or account numbers, or cause your computer to crash.
While a virus can be spread between computers, a worm is a sub-type of virus that is a bit different. It infiltrates your computer and spreads throughout your system, replicates itself, and spreads to other computers without your even knowing it, and without any inadvertent action on your part, such as sending someone a file.
A Trojan is a virus hidden within a benign appearing piece of software. All three can damage your computer and other computers.
You want both real time and scanning protection. A real time antivirus program is constantly scanning your computer for threats, and grabbing, isolating, and killing them.
You can also scan your computer periodically to check for any virus the real time protection may have missed. You can have redundant antivirus programs, but do not get two with real time protection. If they both detect the same virus and grab hold of it, your system will lock up. I was advised not to do this by an IT guy.
So of course, I did exactly what he warned me not to do, and what he warned me would happen happened. I had to nuke my computer, meaning a complete system reset, which took about 10 hours to complete.
Ransomware is another problem. Your computer will be locked, and you will receive a message indicating that you have to pay a fee to get it unlocked. There is specific software designed to protect you from ransomware.
Keep your computer clean as possible. Every day, run a disc-cleaning program to wipe your footprints clean. This helps your computer to run faster and operate more efficiently as well. Within days, gigabytes of electronic crud can accumulate on your computer, slowing it down.
“I have been involved in a great business deal. I gentlemen from Uganda emailed me as said I could quadruple my investment in one month. The initial investment was $10,000 but for a limited time, I could get in on this deal with only $1,000. I decided to go for it. He said it was guaranteed so what could go wrong?”
You will be bombarded with nonsense offer emails like the one above. This is an example of spam, an email that offers you something useless or involves you in a scam.
Overseas investment opportunities, male enhancement products, beautiful Russian brides, beautiful Asian brides, beautiful teeth, remove your skin tags, get your windows insulated and so on and so forth.
If you open one of these emails, this will confirm to the sender they have a live, viable address, and they will share it with their low life bottom feeding friends, and you will get even more spam.
If you click on a link on a piece of spam, you may also load an aforementioned virus, worm, or Trojan into your computer. Get a good quality spam blocker. Options include:
Layer 4: Opt out of public records services
I refer to public records services as stalker services. These are the sites I alluded to in the Introduction to this article. It puts all of our public record info in one place, and makes it accessible within seconds. There is way too much information available for a small fee.
For incremental fees, even more information can be obtained. Go to one of the major people finders, such as intellius and peoplefinder.com. Opt out. You may have to look hard to find the opt out, but it is there. Once you opt out of several of the major public records searchers, it will infiltrate to many of the rest, as the people finders tend to get their information by mining the other large people finders.
You have the right to privacy. Our right to privacy has steadily eroded since the onset of the internet about 1995, and terrorism coming to America in 2001. We have all been placed under a microscope.
I recall reading in a photography book many years ago, that suggested that travelling photographers take care in paranoid third-world regimes, and not photograph power plants, dams, bridges, or anything that is involved with infrastructure, military, corrections, or law enforcement.
I pictured some fragile African or South American nation, on the edge of a coup d’etat or invasion from a neighbor, where everybody was on edge and on the lookout for saboteurs or intelligence operatives. Surely, that would never happen in America.
Times have changed. One evening I was at a Ferry dock, getting ready to photograph the sunset. One of the Ferry crew came over and asked me what I was doing there, I couldn’t loiter, and I better not even be thinking of going down that hill that’s private property and so on. I wonder what police department he was kicked off of or failed to qualify for.
I wasn’t loitering. I was in a public area with a purpose, e.g., photographing the sunset. This was a reflection of a society that has become anxious and uptight. Terrorists achieved a major and enduring psychologically victory in 2001 with their attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. One of the primary goals if terrorism is to sow fear, and to influence government to make repressive or intrusive laws and policies.
This is the reality we have to work with. We have to take responsibility for our own privacy. Every time you go on line, you have to think of it as opening a door or window.