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Internet Privacy - Online Privacy Tips

An informational article provided by iPrivacyTools.com

iPrivacyTools caters to customers who need to change their IP address for a wide variety of reasons, one of which is online privacy. While masking/hiding one's IP may be a helpful component of Internet privacy, it is not the only component. There are numerous other factors involved with safeguarding the privacy of your online activities, and the following tips are intended to get you started in the right direction:

Online privacy tip #1: Type passwords out of order

There will be nothing private about your web surfing if spyware is capturing your usernames, passwords, and website logins as your surf. While running a regular virus scan on one's computer is ultra important, I suggest that you also always assume the worst: that your computer has been compromised by undetected malware.

The good news is that you can fool probably 99%+ of keystroke loggers (the most dangerous spyware) simply by typing your passwords out of order.

For example, suppose your password is: r3ose2bud14

You can typing this password in the following manner:

  1. Type "rosebud1"
  2. Click your mouse to the middle
  3. Type "2"
  4. Click your mouse to after the first character
  5. Type "3"
  6. Click your mouse to the last character
  7. Type "4"

The keystroke logger / spyware has recorded your password as "rosebud1234", which is incorrect. The password submitted was "r3ose2bud14". When the hacker/criminal tries logging into your account, they will of course fail.

Use any pattern you wish for the typing order. What I do is start with something easy to remember like "rosebud1234", and then figure out how to randomize it with my own typing pattern.

*This technique will also enable you to login to webmail and other account from public terminals (where you have no idea when the last virus scan was run) MUCH more safely.

**You should also learn to type your credit card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes out of order. Here's my Visa card: 4947429523951845. Good luck!

Prepare your computer for hacking or theft

If an online privacy expert just informed you that all the data on your computer had been downloaded by a hacker, would you be concerned? Or if your laptop were lost or stolen today, would you be worried about any of the personal information you have stored on it? Do not assume that your startup password is going to protect anything -- it takes about 10 seconds to put that hard drive into a USB enclosure for scanning.

Having found myself in such situations before, I now encrypt all sensitive information using free software such as Open Office Writer, PGP, or (not free, but common) Microsoft Word. If you have a lot of passwords, and don't wish to use tip #1, you can store them all in encrypted form using a password manager.

It is also a good idea to require password login or fingerprint scan at startup (START -> Control Panel -> User Accounts), and anytime the computer awakes or the screen saver turns off (START -> Control Panel -> Display -> Screen Saver -> "On resume, password protect"). This way, if your computer is stolen, the thief won't be able to quickly start your computer and access websites like you might have set for "auto login".

Internet privacy tip #3: Think before clicking

Never click on a link sent via email from a bank, PayPal, or any site that requires a login (username/password) or other personal information. Even I, a web developer, am sometimes fooled by the legitimate looking URLs that scammers include in their emails. And I've seen PayPal websites that look more legitimate than the real PayPal site. These are criminal attempts to gain access by tricking people into typing usernames/passwords into the fake login screen.

So unless you are super confident in your link-analyzing abilities, you should first go to the homepage of any such company by manually typing their URL into your web browser, and then look for the login page.

Learn how to use a firewall

Any firewall is probably better than no firewall for enhancing your online privacy. However, if you trust your firewall protection to "set it and forget it" solutions, you're still leaving a lot to chance. Being aware of which programs you're allowing to access the Internet, and knowing exactly which ports on your computer are open to access from the Internet, will give you a lot more peace of mind in the Internet privacy realm.

One of the greatest threats to your Internet privacy, and a major threat to your identity, is spyware. But in order for criminals to be able to retrieve the information recorded by their spyware, such code in most cases must be able to transmit data back to the criminal via the Internet. Having full control over your firewall will make that much less likely to happen.

Some free firewall solutions include: Comodo, ZoneAlarm, and PCTools.

Use Firefox as your web browser, and install NoScript

You've probably heard of these things before: ActiveX, Java, Javascript, Flash, etc. While these are useful technologies, and in most cases harmless, they can be used to transfer personal data that you many not expect. If your goal is to surf anonymously while using a service like iPrivacyTools, Tor, or any other, it is an especially good idea to use a tool like NoScript. Proxies may change your browser IP address, but it's possible that some websites may try to use various scripting languages to bypass those relays.

Yes, you can also configure Internet Explorer for greater security, but it's just a lot easier with Firefox.

Use a pseudonym (alias) or initials for Internet privacy

When I first started out online, I sent an email to my host/ISP with a ridiculously worded compliment. They quickly posted that comment to their testimonials page, along with my full name, were it still remains 10 years later. It is now one of the top results when someone Googles my name. All I can say is, thank goodness I wasn't online when I was a teenager.

If you participate in any online forums, mailing lists, or other communities, it's almost always a good idea to use something other than your real name (perhaps just your initials). Most social networks have a control panel where you can set your privacy preferences. So if you don't like your Facebook profile appearing whenever your name is typed into Google, there is something you can do about it.

Manage cookies, and behavioral marketers

Have you ever visited a website, and then noticed that you begin seeing ads for similar websites? Or perhaps you clicked an ad, and then noticed many more similar ads begin appearing? This is just the tip of the iceberg in behavioral marketing. And cookies are the primary means by which advertising networks create a profile of your potential buying habits. As you surf, cookies act as beacons tracking your activity, and all that info goes into a database entry with your IP/cookie on it.

To stay on top of your online privacy, start by learning more about who's tracking you:

  1. Visit a site like http://www.networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp and click "More Information" for details about the cookies on your system.
  2. Look at the cookies currently in your browser. To do that in Firefox, go to "Tools -> Options -> Privacy -> Show Cookies"

If you want to keep your surfing patterns a little more private, you can block cookies from such marketers by going to "Tools -> Options -> Privacy -> Exceptions", and adding their URL's to a block list.

It may also be a good idea to reset/change your IP address once in awhile as well.

Online Privacy Mini-Tips

  1. Shop with a credit card, not a debit card. If your account number ever does enter the "public domain", better to max out your credit card than to deplete your checking out. Disputing charges made by credit is typically much easier and less anxiety-inducing than dealing with an empty bank account and trying to recover overdraft fees.
  2. Delete email regularly. Yes, it's great that your email account allows you to store 10 billion gigabytes of email. It's a great way for your email provider to profile you for targeted advertising. And it's a great way for anyone who hacks your email account to learn everything about your life. But it would probably be a lot greater for your Internet privacy to delete all unnecessary messages every 30 days or so.
  3. Don't send personal email from work. It may not seem fair, but it's quite likely that your employer has every right to monitor all your incoming and outgoing email. So if online privacy is important to you, it would be a good idea to limit personal correspondence to a home computer or personal portable device.
  4. Don't reply to spammers. In spammer language, the words "remove me from your list" mean "congratulations, you have found someone that reads their junk mail, please send me more". If your email provider or ISP has a link to report spam, fine. But don't bother taking it further -- spammers are knowingly breaking the law, and trying to correspond with them will probably just lead to more spam.
  5. Clear your browser history regularly. This isn't for everybody (I like for my browser to auto-complete URL's), but for anyone that shares a computer and wants to keep their browsing history private: go to the Firefox dropdown menu for "Tools -> Options -> Privacy -> Clear Now" and make sure that all items are getting cleared. Then check the box for "Always clear my private data when I close Firefox".
  6. Unless your're confident in the publisher, never install software (or click on any .exe or .msi file) before scanning it with antivirus. Many tools are available online for you to do this, such as Kaspersky and VirusTotal. You can also get a file scanned just by emailing it to yourself through Yahoo and other email providers. Of course, there will be cases when programs are mis-identified purely because of a certain "behavior". In those situations, you may want to at least do a little Googling about the reputation of the company offering the software.

Useful FREE software for Internet privacy

Free version virus scans: TrendMicro, Norton, AVG, BitDefender

Shred sensitive documents with multiple data overwrites: Shredder

Store passwords in encrypted format: KeePass and Password Safe

Create a fully encrypted folder on your computer: TrueCrypt

Quickly disable scripts on your Firefox Browser: NoScript

Other userful Firefox extenstions: PopupMaster & FormFox

Other Online Privacy Resources

Eff.org - Privacy tips from a leading civil liberties group that defends privacy/digital rights.

PrivacyBlog.com - Blog style website discussing anonymity, cryptography, and other privacy topics.

PrivacyRights.org - Online privacy and technology tips from "Privacy Rights Clearinghouse"

Privacy news, public policy, etc: CDT.org , Epic.org , Privacy International, Wired.com


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