Online Privacy Tips

January 11, 2013 in Technology

Kindle passcode

Kindle passcode

Online privacy and general computer security is such a pain. I work on a helpdesk and it seems to me that maybe as many as 75% of all the computer problems I hear about are caused, one way or another, by security issues: passwords expiring or forgotten, virus attacks, programs not being able to access some protected data… on and on and on… Unfortunately, the world is full of hackers – and that term has to include lots of people who you wouldn’t normally think of as being in that category: how about your girlfriend sneaking a look at your text messages while you’re having a bath? Is that OK with you? If not, maybe password protect your phone, your touchpad and all your other computer-like devices! Which is the greater pain?

Maybe you have an e-reader, such as a Kindle. If you leave it on the train, anybody can pick it up, visit the Amazon bookstore and click “Buy Now” – there is no security on the Kindle. If they have your gadget they can spend what they like on books, and offload them to their computer via a USB cable long before you get to cancel your account. A simple PIN code can stop all that malarkey, or slow it down dramatically, if the PIN isn’t 0000 or 1234, for example (if you’re going to be stupid, nobody can help you). The instructions may differ slightly from one model to another, but for example on the Kindle Paperwhite, you go to the menu, then Settings, Device Options, Device Passcode.

Next – if you must leave your computer on, at least sign out of sites (and servers) before you close them: Facebook, Twitter and all the rest give you the option of signing out before you close your browser. Do it! And don’t have your computer remember your passwords either if anyone else could have access to it: visiting “friends”, the ever-nosy girlfriend, your parents, and so on. Your computer itself probably gives you the option of “locking” it before you walk away from it: do it (on a Windows PC press Windows-L)! Somebody’s idea of a joke could lead to all sorts of problems for you.

You might want to consider encrypting your whole computer with Bitlocker (Windows) or Filevault (Mac). Personally, I feel that is going a bit too far, but if your stuff is even a tiny bit sensitive, it could be worth it. The result is nobody can get any of your data even if they have your hard drive (unless you use a trivial or obvious encryption key, such as your cat’s name, your birthday, or a dictionary word).

And the next time some website (or stranger such as a salesperson) asks you for your e-mail address, if you don’t want to be bombarded with spam, or profiled by some computer that will search web databases for every mention of that e-mail address and scoop up all the info on what you’ve been up to lately, then use a throwaway one! Open an account somewhere that you will never check, or set your e-mail client to send all mail to rubbish@mydomain.com into the bin without bothering you. There are free ones that work without a password: you can make up any name you like, and log in to mailinator.com after the fact with no password and just see what arrives there. All mail is deleted after a few hours. So just give out an address like fred123@mailinator.com and leave it. If you need to pick up an activation link from there, it will be there for a few hours, just go to the www.mailinator.com and fetch it. Free. Simple. Disposable. No red tape (password) required either. You don’t even have to set anything up in advance – you can make up any name you like, at any time, without notifying the site, and it will just work, for a few hours. Send them all your junk. That’s what they’re for.

If you use Google accounts or Gmail, then set up their two-step security – it can be a pain if you need to use your account from a strange computer, but on the other hand, if anyone else discovers your password, they won’t be able to access it from their computer unless they also have access to your phone – Google will send you a text confirmation if you’re using a computer it hasn’t seen you log in from before.

Facebook is another privacy nightmare. At a minimum, nip in to the privacy settings, and consider setting them to Friends Only, or to Custom – but be aware of exactly which networks and individuals can see your stuff in this case. You can also, as with Google, set up two-step logins, under the Security setting, Login Approvals. Also, take a look there at the Active sessions (where you, or somebody, has failed to log out properly): the locations will make little sense (if my record is anything to go by), but at least you can see if any unfamiliar browsers or operating systems are being used: end those sessons. While you’re at it, why not set up Login Notifications as well: Facebook can send you a text whenever “you” log in…

Last but not least – use Incognito Browsing if you visit any dodgy sites you’d rather that nosy girlfriend doesn’t know about – Ctrl-Shift-P in Firefox and IE, Ctrl-Shift-N in Chrome, More > Settings > Privacy and Security Settings > Browsing without History in Android, and the browser won’t record any History while you’re there. You might consider deleting your History every now and then anyway, or setting a short time-limit on it.

What’s your top privacy tip? Use the Comments link below to let me know!