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Ressurecting Your Internet Privacy- The Security Essentials


Part IV of Resurrecting Internet Privacy

Help is at hand – it is not only possible but also relatively straightforward to protect your internet privacy, and to such a degree that companies and governments will know very little about you at all. Most information is gathered as a simple result of our ignorance of the simple steps we can take to deny invasion of our internet privacy. Here are some security essentials that we can employ so that we can also smugly say:

That's you, not me; I take measures to protect myself?
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Manage your cookie security – all browsers enable cookies and third-party cookies by default. They also, however, offer the option to disable them through their settings. Disabling all cookies will create functionality problems – as many sites use them for legitimate purposes – but third party cookies, the more invasive type, can be disabled with virtually no loss of functionality, and doing so greatly increases your privacy control. For even more security-conscious users, you may also adjust your settings to choose which sites you allow first-party cookies from, or have them removed at the end of each session.

Use Firefox browser with its security plugins – Some browsers, such as Google Chrome, appear to have been built primarily to track your internet use, and should be avoided at all costs. Firefox is a free download which gives you access to a number of great security plugins designed to protect your internet privacy. One of these, NoScript, gives you the power to block Google Analytics and web bugs in general. TrackMeNot continuously creates automatic searches from your computer on a variety of different topics so that any marketing profile drawn up on you is muddied by thousands of falsified interests.

Hide your IP address – one of the primary ways information is gathered on our internet use is through your IP address, but there are numerous services that allow you to mask your IP address so you cannot be tracked.

Consider using internet anonymity services – there are services available which allow you to browse the internet anonymously – all your activity takes place on the provider's servers so your computer is hidden from most forms of observation. If combined with good cookie management and a secondary Hide-IP program – for those moments when you need to switch off the anonymity program (to access media files embedded in certain sites, for example) – you can create a very effective line of defence against privacy invasion.

Use encryption software – there are some free plugins that allow you to easily encrypt text and files so that no one but the intended recipients are able to read them (court cases have shown that not even the FBI can crack the encryption cipher).

Choose your ISP carefully – media watchdogs are quick to alert us of privacy invasions carried out by internet service providers, and an ear to the ground will help you keep abreast of which ISPs should be avoided (BT, Virgin and Talk-Talk being the most recent examples). Do a search on ISP packet sniffing from time to time just to be sure your ISP has not been found to be tracking your internet behaviour for marketing purposes.

Fear social networks – Ideally you would never even use these sites, as they are veritable farms of personal data. But if you are not prepared to give up your Facebook or Twitter lifestyle in the name of privacy, there are at least some security measures you can take:

Manage your privacy settings – the default settings are essentially let everyone see everything about me. But you can easily select exactly which information others can access. As these sites evolve, more and more functions appear for data sharing, and these can only be turned off by you. For example, recently Facebook started scanning all uploaded photos and running it through face recognition software so all photos can be connected with other profile data – only by actively refusing to have these tags confirmed by friends can you protect yourself against this at all.

Mask your identity – there are many ways to do this. First and foremost, consider using a name that is not your own and connect your profile to family members as friends only. If you already have an account with your real name, consider creating other fake accounts with the same name – a technique used by important personages to obfuscate trackers. Of course, also refrain from posting key identifying information on your profile such as your address or telephone number and your primary email address.

  • Do not use the remember me function – by permitting cookies on your computer through this function, you are undermining other precautions you might have taken to avoid being identified.
  • Do not use third party applications – many are untrustworthy and are built not to entertain so much as to acquire marketing data on you.
  • Do not Like other pages – you can limit what Facebook knows about you by not volunteering information on your personal opinions, tastes and values in this way.
Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team