staying private and secure in cyberspace

by Nic Smith

We have potential clients call us who believe that someone may be reading their emails or otherwise invading their online computer or cellphone privacy. They want to know what to do to stay secure from hackers. Other people may not feel that they have been hacked yet but want to know what to do to keep their online activity and communications private and secure.


Maintaining privacy and security in the current cyber-universe can appear daunting and burdensome but if you really want to be certain you are safe, it is not that difficult to adapt procedures and methods for keeping your online communications from your computer, smartphones or other devices, private and secure.Now, let's present a different scenario.

 

How do professionals who work with these issues maintain their online privacy and security?

First: Your Router

The most common Internet connection today is via a Wi-Fi signal coming from a router. If you are like most people, the router that was installed in your home has either the same funky password that it had when you opened the box or a simple one that you changed it to when you installed it. Brute-force password cracking programs that use automated software to generate a large number of consecutive guesses are very efficient at cracking passwords that use words only as the basis of the password. So pick a strong password with more than just words - make sure that you also use numbers and symbols.

 

Second: Your ISP and VPNs

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is your access point to the Internet. When you log-on to the Internet you are doing so through your ISP, which is then able to track where you go on the Internet. That is why you get targeted by those annoying ads that seem to mysteriously pop-up after you log on to a site, look at a product, etc. The way to stop that is with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). AVPN is a service that allows you to enter the Internet from one of multiple servers that are located around the world. To the website that you land on, you appear to be coming from a server in say Austria or Ireland. There is nothing that can ever track back to you as an individual. Your personal IP address can't be seen so no annoying ads land on your computer! There are also personal security reasons why VPNs are important. There are many to choose from. We use the VPN: Private Internet Access (https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/)

 

Third: Your Email

We use our business addresses at Psinvestigates.com for normal business correspondence. For email that contains client information of an especially sensitive nature we use an encrypted email service. If you want to be safe from potential hackers, you can also choose to use an encrypted email. There are a number of them available, including Hushmail, Tutanota and Protonmail, to name a few. We prefer Protonmail that is an end-to-end encrypted email service founded in 2014 at the CERN research facility in Switzerland, with servers located in Switzerland. Here is their website: https://protonmail.com/

 

Finally: Smartphones and Other Devices

To protect phone calls and texts, you can use an encryption app that allows you to speak or text with someone who has the same app in a completely encrypted manner. There are several available. You've probably heard of WhatsApp. We think Signal is one of the best apps for cellphone privacy and it is free! https://signal.org/download/

 

A question we are frequently asked is "How easy is it to install spyware on a cell phone?" The answer is that it is easy to install if you have access to the phone. HOWEVER, because spyware on cellphones is essentially a second phone that is making copies of everything and uploading it to a server, it makes the phone run the battery twice as fast and generally makes the phone run much hotter.

 

There is another method for spying on your phone that doesn't use spyware but uses an access point. That is called Bluetooth hacking.

 

Bluetooth Hacking

 

Many mobile devices now have Bluetooth and it is definitely convenient! But Bluetooth connections to your electronic devices present an electronic pathway that a hacker can exploit. Bluetooth transmissions only emanate outward from the phone for about thirty feet, so the hacker must also be in close proximity to you to accomplish the hack. But consider how many people sit within thirty feet of each other on an airplane!

 

Once you are hacked, the hacker can send emails from your phone to other phones in the area (bluejacking), transfer all of your personal information to the hacker's phone (bluesnarfing) and in some instances, depending on the skill of the hacker, listen in on conversations and read texts (bluebugging).

 

If your devices, both your cellphone and computer are password protected, that is a barrier the hacker must overcome, so password implementation and a good password are critical to the security of your communications from Bluetooth hacking.

 

In Summary:

 

To stay safe and protect your online privacy:

 

Turn off the Bluetooth function on your devices, cellphone and computer when you are not using them.

Update software on all your devices and make sure you have strong passwords.

 

Never use public Wi-Fi networks. These connections are not secure. You should disable automatic connections to public networks to keep your device from connecting to a source without your knowledge.

 

Consider a virtual protected network (VPN) for your computer and your cellphone.

 

Consider using Signal or another encryption app for your cellphone.

 

Incorporating the above steps into your daily cyber life will help restore more privacy and security to your communications.

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