Published on September 7, 2015 by

Four tools to ensure your privacy.

Connecting to the net has become more complicated as commercial data aggregators, the government, and other organizations and individuals track our movements from one site to the next and scan our unencrypted data connections.  The major drivers of these invasive technologies and practices are to create value or create profiles.  This two drivers are not exclusive of each other and often occur simultaneously; however, actors can have one distinct driver – a government may wish to only create profiles while organized crime wish to only create value.  Many of us have already left trails of gigabytes of our personal data on the internet – both willingly and unknowingly.  The advent of the surveillance state, the commodification of data and the growing sophistication of online organized crime requires us to take a few steps to ensure some privacy and security in our browsing habits and internet connections.  In other words, we should now consider stopping our uninhibited flow of data, or at least, decrease our data leakage.  This short guide goes over four essential technologies you can began utilizing right away to encrypt your internet data connection and decrease online tracking.

Browser Add-ons

The Electronic Frontier Foundation developed both of my recommended add-ons. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.  They are a trusted source.

First, Privacy Badger is a new tool built to decrease or eliminate companies from tracking our internet sessions.  When you view a webpage, that page will often be made up of content from many different sources.  (For example, a news webpage might load the actual article from the news company, ads from an ad company, and the comments section from a different company that’s been contracted out to provide that service.)  Privacy Badger keeps track of all of this.  If as you browse the web, the same source seems to be tracking your browser across different websites, then Privacy Badger springs into action, telling your browser not to load any more content from that source.  And when your browser stops loading content from a source, that source can no longer track you.  There is no setup required or complicated settings to manipulate to create your desired outcome.  Currently, this add-on only works in Firefox and Chrome.

Second, HTTPS Everywhere activates the encryption capabilities of encrypted portions of supported web sites.   HTTPS provides authentication of the website and associated web server that one is communicating with, which protects against man-in-the-middle attacks.  Additionally, it , which protects against eavesdropping and tampering with and/or forging the contents of the communication.  The add-on will automatically activate HTTPS encryption, thereby providing bidirectional encryption of communications between a client and server, for all known supported parts of the site which can protect you against eavesdropping and communication tampering.  This add-on does not conceal your identity or erase the sites you visited. However, forcing an encrypted browser connection, wherever possible, ensures your data confidentiality, integrity and authenticity.

Software & Service

Torguard is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service that i’ve been using for years.  A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, virtual tunneling protocols, or traffic encryption.  In other words, when you are connected to their VPN networks you are not in your physical location, but in some distant city somewhere around the world.  TorGuard uses several encryption methods, including: OpenVPN (256-AES or 128-bit Blowfish), PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, and Stealth for the VPN connection on Windows, Mac, Linux, OS X, iOS, and Android.  TorGuard also provides free Viscosity client licenses (excellent VPN app).  They have also created their own app that is useful for multiple devices since you only get one Viscosity license.  Torgaurd’s basic plan allows up to five simultaneously connected devices.

Torguard’s entire  VPN network is configured on shared IP’s and does not maintain any usage logs – not even for a second.  They don’t keep traffic logs of their users whatsoever, except for billing information.  Since there are hundreds of users sharing a specific IP at any given time, it is impossible for a network technician to trace back a timestamp to a single user.  While a VPN is not the “fix-all” solution, it does help lessen one’s metadata IP footprint. By simply masking one’s IP and encrypting the web session, this can help prevent personal data from being unlawfully recorded and attached to a permanent metadata record.

TorrentGuard boasts 1000+ servers in over 44 countries around the world, including: the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Russia, Romania, Brazil and Singapore.  In order to overcome problems like that, TorGuard sells DD-WRT or Tomato pre-flashed routers that are already configured to TorGuard VPN service, making it extremely easy and comfortable for users who are looking for hassle free VPN configurations.  In other words, you can purchase a new wireless router from them, with your new account, and all of your connection on that wifi network will go through their VPN service.

Cookie is a cookie management software for the mac.  I’ve been a mac user for quite sometime because of my multimedia work and my obsession with the iPad in graduate school.  If you don’t have a mac, then this section is not for you. I love cookie because of its ease of use and simplicity.  I can easily see what type of cookies are stored on my system including HTTP cookies, Flash cookies, Silverlight, and cookie storage files like HTML5 databases, localStorage, IndexedDB.  The amount of cookies automatically installed on our computers is incredible.  With this software you can select cookies you want to have remain (aka favorites) and setup removal policies for the rest (including removal schedules and on browser quit).  You can also configure Cookie to securely delete data to protect from in-house privacy concerns (cache, forms, and other data stored on our drives).  The data is destroyed to US Department of Defense DoD 5220.22-M standards, making data recovery impossible.

Conclusion

No system is secure and these four recommendations are not perfect.  However, they are effective and extremely easy to use.  You can be a complete novice and still setup all four of these technologies in minutes.  A couple clicks and a small investment and you can protect your privacy and encrypt your connections.

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