Security Reminder

It surely comes up monthly when I talk to anybody around me. I simply ask how they store their data, if they back-up, review their online accounts, and all the other stuff that is obvious to me to do. But I also explain that I am not really doing as much as I should, because being busy is in the way, it is also a bit of a hassle.

tl;dr With this blog post I want to remind everybody that the switch to 2016 is the perfect time to improve your (online) privacy and security by reviewing your accounts and taking action.

Being secure is important. There are a lot of threats out there, targeted attacks to you personally or the company you have an account with. As well as completely automated scripts trying out whatever exploit they know. Not to mention data leaks and breaches. It is why I always recommend to take it seriously.

In my humble opinion it starts from the ground up. Every time. The most secure is of course to not share data, to not sign up for anything, heck, don’t even be connected to a network, or even use a computer. But since that’s almost impossible these days. We submit our tax forms this way, do our on-line banking, communicate with friends and family, and find out information about whatever, or consume media on-line.

So pick the right provider, configure their modem, get your own router and start storing important data and notes in an encrypted vault through well respected and tested programs. And take it from there. Starting with using the right computers and operating systems, and maybe the most important step: your behaviour. Don’t just click on anything that looks appealing or requires instant action.

If you didn’t ask to update Flash, ignore the popup. Go to the adobe site manually and follow the correct steps. If you didn’t ask for that email, don’t open it, and if you want to double check, then at least do not click any links in to the email. Manually go to your PayPal or on-line banking account by typing the URL in the browser and checking manually.

If you don’t trust something. Review the account, account access, and change the details on it and store these details in something like 1Password app. And that’s the other thing. Start storing your data (notes, details, logins) from now on. You do not have to sit down for four hours doing it all at once. Just do it as you run into it. Going to Facebook later? Change the pass, review the account, and store the details in 1Password (which works on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac by the way).

I’ve published blog articles on my site in the past about the changes I’ve personally made to improve my security. I no longer accept HTML emails, I only open plain-text mails. I don’t even consider opening emails I didn’t ask for. I’ve started using 1Password and I started to use unique passwords, and I have started to make better choices when it comes to the software and hardware that I use.

But at a cost. Compromise. And that’s a tricky word since we’re trying to prevent compromise (of data). What I mean is the compromise of convenience. I really honestly dislike it that we have to keep our phone nearby that SMS confirmation code, just to quickly login somewhere. I wish I could just be automatically logged in at all times. But I rather compromise convenience than have the inconvenience of my account and its data being compromised. You will have to balance this yourself. To be honest, I think we techies know the bigger companies are working on a password-less login and we can expect to see the first few steps before 2020, until then..

My history with computers and technology came from UNIX and Linux, only later I switched to Windows and eventually I ended up with Mac. I love the CLI (command line interface) of *nix, but I enjoy the convenience of the GUI (graphical user interface) of Windows (well, before the Vista age). Anyway, Apple’s OSX sort of is that *nix power with the Win GUI, it offers simplicity, stability, ease of use, consistence, and a completed platform for desktop, server, mobile, and more.

It’s not the only reason I switched. I feel the security is better on Apple’s platform than on Windows platform. The way the file system, it’s permissions.. the users on the system, and their permissions.. it isn’t perfect, but it damn sure is a lot better than what I’ve seen on Windows. So yes, I am biased towards Apple’s platform. You’re free to be on whatever is comfortable for you – but I hope you take security then even more serious than I do on the Mac.

If you are connecting to a network, like the Internet. You will probably get a modem from your ISP, custom firmware, and whatever. Ugh! The best you can do for yourself is to get a respectable router and set the modem up in bridge mode. And let the way more powerful router give you much better control, better performance and better security.

You will probably decide to go wireless, you probably have a tablet or mobile phone. Use WPA-2 or better, and never WPS/WEP, and certainly never disable encryption.

If you want to go overboard with privacy, consider a VPN from a respectable no-logging company with no speed and traffic limits. But at least use a privacy sensitive browser like FireFox or Chrome. Well, they’re preferred over Safari and EDGE (the new Internet Explorer). Learn about the browser’s settings and features, there’s nothing wrong about browsing unknown web sites in privacy-mode or incognito-mode. And if you decided to use 1Password to handle your data, you can stop storing the form-details in the browser.

I strongly recommend for a handful of reasons to use long, strong, and unique passwords for every god damn single login you have. The login to your computer should be different than your bank’s card. And the PIN to your phone should be different too. Your master password to 1Password should be unique, and not written down somewhere. And let 1Password generate these long and complex passwords for you.

Pro-tip: Don’t use 1password to generate ridiculous passwords for something like your Apple ID, because you can’t download the app without logging into your Apple ID first. Think this stuff through a little 🙂

The reason I am reminding you to improve your security is because it’s a new year. And that’s the perfect time to just adjust your behaviour and improve your online security, your software and hardware security and prevent a worst case scenario. Hopefully it also gets you thinking about backing-up your data finally. What if.. situations need to be addressed as well. So you can recover from ransomware viruses or account-stole blackmail situations, and all that nasty stuff like identity theft and what not.

Even if you think “oh, I post nothing on my Facebook, who cares!”, then it’s just ignorance speaking. If you always use the same password for everything, it certainly won’t be hard to deduct your on-line banking password from your compromised Facebook password. Plus, if you actually answer security questions with the real answer, your online profiles will hold the answers to these questions. So maybe this article will help you rethink those choices a little and prevent worst case scenarios.

Security is important, otherwise you end up calling me to help fix it. Which I’d love to do by the way, but you can prevent the cost of paying for my dinner or the public embarrassment when you remember that I at least warned you about it *again* ..

Put your feet up, drink some tea, read this and then go and take the first step: change your Facebook password and go through the security and privacy settings. And note them down in 1Password (and please go buy it.. sigh).

Then go about your day again, and if you have to login on another site tomorrow, repeat the steps. Chill, go change your details, take note of the changes, and go back to chilling again.

Feel free to contact me about how I can help you with your modem and router, what it will cost to invest in some hardware and software to get you started. Or how I can help you improve your digital privacy and security through an on-line checklist.