Ten practical ways to better secure your data – part 3

Michael Caine shows how old-school spying was done (The Ipcress File). Nowadays, ordinary computer users need protection from spying eyes
Michael Caine shows how old-school spying was done (The Ipcress File). Nowadays, ordinary computer users increasingly need to protect themselves from spying eyes

In this third and last of our ‘practical tips’ series we look at encryption.

Encrypting information used to be the stuff of old spy movies, but the world has changed, and, increasingly, ordinary computer users need to protect their data from prying eyes.

These can be those of government employees, who seem to want to snoop more and more on us. However, there are lots of marketing companies, including Facebook, who want to pry too.

But you can protect your data, by encrypting it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere encryption tool can protect you while you browse online. It forces your browser to use HTTPS if this is available on a website – the little lock symbol tells you if it is.

And products like, for example, Abine’s Do Not Track Me can protect you from the growing number of data collectors tracking your every move online. For US$5 a month, you buy an add-on that prevents intruders collecting your email address, phone numbers and, scarily, credit card number, when you fill out web forms.

“But you shouldn’t stop there. A lot of people carry around important data on USB sticks, and these can be vulnerable too,” says Computer Forensics’ MD, Brian Eardley-Wilmot.

“There are programs like BitLocker, for Microsoft users, that can secure your USB data. And Mac users have it even easier with Disk Utility. This comes already loaded into Mac OS X, but you can upgrade to it for free now if need be. And don’t forget to encrypt your hard drive, especially your backups.”

Besides the snoopers, there are also the plain old hackers to contend with too. Which brings us to tip number eight: how best to protect your data from viruses and other sorts of malicious software or malware.

For this you need two security programs. While most users have an always-on antivirus program, you also need to run a general malware program from time to time, to catch any new nasties. One program, Malwarebytes, prides itself on its ability to detect the newest nasties. The basic version is free.

Tip number nine: tape that webcam. The danger of intruders peeking through your webcam was recently highlighted by the story of a pervert shouting abuse at a baby he spied after hacking into the family’s webcam-equipped baby monitor.

“WPA2 and a long, hard-to-guess password will protect you, but a piece of sticky tape does a really great job and is also impenetrable to software attacks,” says Eardley-Wilmot.

“And now for our last tip. It’s a cheat as it is a repeat of our first one, but it’s just so important: back up. Always.

“And do it twice, to a different physical space – in case a fire or burglars, or another earthquake put you out of business.

“You don’t want it to be forever, do you?”

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