Hacker’s Helper: How to protect your identity from the other side

Who better to learn how to defend against internet hacking and computer privacy than from a person who has lived and breathed it from the other side?

Those individuals, known as “hackers” have found their way to the greener on the other side and have opted to help the good guys in the fight against theft of identity, and aren’t afraid to show the general public the ins and outs of what they should be doing to protect themselves.

This real life “Catch Me If You Can” centers on the same premise of the movie. Someone figured out how to beat the system, and then decides that after he’s been caught, he’ll help out the authorities.

Whether you’ve seen the movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the check fraud expert to Tom Hank’s FBI agent character isn’t as important as how much you can potentially learn about protecting your own well being thanks to what were once hackers hell bent on getting your information, too.

For starters, you can’t overlook emails and texts as a means to get to you faster and more conveniently for someone who hacks these accounts as a profession. Some personal emails and texts are now being forced through software that encrypts them so that the only person who can view it is the intended recipient. Hackers suggest that this software be commonplace, but it can only work if both you and the recipient are using it. For texts, you simply have to find an encryption app that you both can agree upon.

The internet, as you’d expect, is where most of your missteps will occur. Aside from the obvious of using WiFi that isn’t password protected, you also might want to consider not just where you browse online but how you do it.

You can install software that sets privacy options so you can block sites from tracking visits and thus having a better understanding of what you’re doing while you’re online, specifically things that would involve personal information and data, like banking or buying.

Overall, an encrypted connection with all your web browsing would be the best and most viable option. This takes away the web address to site connection and adds to it an encryption so that all that you’re doing isn’t available for the viewing pleasure of a hacker or someone interested in your information. This often is commonly referred to as a VPN network, and while there’s a charge to have this service it pales in comparison to what life would be like with a bank account that is missing thousands or an email account you can’t access because someone other than you changed the password.

If you can’t beat them (hackers), just hope they join you, the victim of fraud, in the fight against those who are trying everything and anything to get your information at their fingertips. The good guys got some much needed help so take advantage of the advice those who “flipped” will figure to give you.

Key Block: Why Chrome wants to block ads for good

Tired of annoying ads that constantly pop up?  Well Google Chrome may just have the solution for you starting next year.

The sites that will face ad blocking on Google Chrome are those that are not compliant with standards set by the Coalition For Better Ads.  For a publisher to have their ads blocked, a significant portion of their ads will have to be in violation.

The Google Chrome browser will still allow ads as long as they follow the industry created guidelines and minimize certain types of ads.  Those ads are the ones that consumers typically hate, including pop up ads, huge ads that don’t go away when you scroll down on a page, and video ads that start playing automatically with the sound on.

Google says the feature, which will be available on both desktop and mobile versions of Chrome, will be turned on by default, but that users can still turn it off if they want.  But beyond that, Google says they will also block ads that they sell and manage if they don’t get rid of those annoying types of ads.

On the other side of this though, Google is also starting a program that will help publishers deal with users who have downloaded popular ad blockers.  Under this program, Google will work with websites to set up messages telling users to disable their ad blockers for the site or to pay for a version of it with no ads.  The benefit of this program for Google is they will take a 10% cut of these payments.  Some popular sites already have these types of measures in place.  For example, Forbes.com won’t let you read stories without disabling your ad blocker or by logging in with your Facebook or Google account so the site can track you.

To prepare for this new version of Chrome, Google is releasing a tool called the Ad Experience Report that will warn publishers of any ads that violate the coalition’s standards.

There is some backlash to this announcement from Google though. The European Commission is expected to fine Google for alleged anticompetitive behavior with it’s shopping service.  These blockers also threaten websites that rely on digital ads for revenue.

While everything regarding Google’s full plan for Chrome in 2018 is yet to be finalized, it seems that the intent is to make consumers internet browsing more convenient by eliminating annoying ads.

The progressive and forward thinking ad blocking from Google only serves as a staunch reminder that internet browsing shouldn’t be a detriment based on ads that are suspect at best.

Missing Links: Why we tend to overlook computer privacy

As much news as computer privacy and identify theft seem to garner on a daily basis, the reality is that most of us ignore it completely or do very little to mitigate or prevent something bad from happening on any level.

Why do we overlook computer privacy?

The real question should be what are we doing to protect or computers, tablets and devices, whether person or business related, from theft of identity?
If you answer that question with nothing or a halfhearted forage into how you avoid spam emails, you might not be as adept at preventing theft as you originally believed.

We look past computer privacy on a consistent basis for two reasons: the internet and gaining information, emails, etc. online is so easy and is often a “given,” and privacy takes on a “can’t happen to me” mentality for the masses.

But computer privacy is real and of the utmost important for a lot of reasons, namely to protect your assets, your credit and make sure you’re not inviting a hacker into your entire company to have information meant for only the eyes of your co workers and more importantly your superiors.

That’s why if you’re going to look at the basics of computer privacy and want to stop ignoring just how important it is, you’ll want to focus on your email first and foremost. Email is how we communicate for the most part, so we can’t stress just how important it is not only do the bare minimum and not open what looks to be questionable emails but also pay close attention to your email in terms of if you suspect a breach has occurred. An easy way to see this is if your password suddenly doesn’t work.

In addition to email, you should make it a habit to change any passwords you have on a 30 or, at most, 60 day basis. This includes network computer passwords at work or email passwords, streaming services, etc.

And if your Wifi isn’t password protected, you’re allowing hackers and those in the know to see what you’re doing so using public Wifi, particularly on a work device, isn’t the best of decisions.

Trying to avoid a computer hack or identity theft sometimes can’t be avoided. But if you can check all the boxes that show you’ve done all you can, then sometimes that peace of mind makes working through this problem a little easier to swallow, knowing you have in fact put a premium on your privacy.

Password Protected: How to properly secure your password privacy

If you are, well, alive and well, you absolutely have an email address and, with that, a password.

How else are you supposed to log in and scroll through junk mail, work emails or anything else through that medium?

In addition, passwords also play a role in things like online banking, security through a server at work, for example, and just about anything else that is specific to you and you only being able to see it.

So, with that, passwords are everywhere, but unfortunately your eyes aren’t the only ones trying to see (and remember) your password. A recent study showed nearly 50 percent of the population has had information brought to light by hackers, a startling number and a sobering statistic that really reinforces the importance of not only having unique password protection but online security as a whole.

The most reliable piece of advice is one that is broken far too often even though it seems fairly obvious, and that is visiting accounts or password protected ones though a public network, such as sitting down for a cup of coffee and transferring money between bank accounts or just randomly looking at your email.

As convenient as public Wi Fi is, you have to make sure you’re using it correctly, and that simply means avoiding anything that has personal information associated with it. Hackers have very little road blocks in order to get account numbers or passwords when you’re basically handing them that information on a silver platter.

Even your own web browser or your private network can also come into play, as you should try to tap into security features offered by Internet Explorer or FireFox, to name a few.

One thing that is often underutilized is additional security that is available for email, such as not only giving a password but also another piece of personal information that can be required to access your inbox. Some products that are available make getting into your email that much more difficult for computer hackers because not only do they have to figure out your password but also some other unique code or series of numbers that you’ve asked to be part of authenticating the user.

Protecting your identity is paramount and one could argue that it is the most important element of security overall. The good news is that as adept as hackers are at finding ways to manipulate the system, you can always stay one up on them with sound pieces of advice and a little effort in regard to how you use your information properly and safely.

Soft Aware: Free software to protect identity is worth second look

Everybody wants to ensure that their privacy is protected when they’re online.  Whether using your phone, tablet, or laptop, you want to make sure your personal information is secure.  This is especially important if you use public Wi Fi hotspots. 

So how do you protect your privacy without spending a ton of money on software? 

Tor Browser, for starters, is a special version of Firefox that diverts data to protect your privacy.  With the Tor Browser you can browse the web as usual, but it uses thousands of relays to disguise where your data is coming from.  Tor Browser delivers secure browsing that is only slightly slower than normal and enables anonymous internet browsing provided that you practice safe internet surfing. 

Some software prevents tracking cookies from monitoring your browsing and reporting it back to advertisers.  Ghostery is one of those, and it also has the knack to tell you exactly what each company is looking at and what they are likely to do with your data.

While some software that is free can be a little “too good to be true,” you can’t argue with the price tag. That said, one of the more overlooked means of computer identity and subsequent theft is your password. Hackers are adept at stealing your key strokes, but with Key Scrambler Personal, the aptly titled software makes short work of this.

Key Scrambler Personal encrypts every letter you type and the free version supports 38 different browsers.  However, email, instant messaging, and online gaming do require a paid for version of the product.

For Windows users, you already know that Windows 10 is the most personal version of Windows.  But some feel it’s too personal and that Windows 10  gathers too much personal data.  Anti Spy enables users to disable advertising ID’s, Smart Screen filtering, and apps that can access your camera.

Finally, you have GnuPG or GNU Privacy Guard.  GnuPG is a tool for encrypting files and emails.  It enables users to encrypt and digitally sign documents with technology that is effectively unbreakable.

All of these programs are free software that provide security in a variety of different areas and will help ensure your peace of mind when it comes to protecting your privacy online. They can only do so much (since they’re free, remember?) to protect your identity but certainly is a good place to start if money is an issue.

Public Protector: Why open Wi Fi spells trouble for your identity 

Everybody does it these days, so don’t feel bad.

With laptops, notebooks, and iPads and tablets, working away from your desk is commonplace.  And it’s not just work either.  We all like to check our personal email and Facebook at our favorite coffee shop or café as well.

So how do you protect yourself from identity theft and other privacy risks when you’re working or just surfing the internet away from home or the office?

The most important thing when using your laptop in a public place, is taking the proper precautions when using a public WiFi network.  Before connecting to a network, make sure you know whose network you’re connecting to.  Those looking to steal your information online can set up what’s called a honeypot.  This is where thieves set up their own WiFi hotspot.  These usually have unassuming names like Public WiFi or Public Network to tempt you to connect without thinking anything of it.

To avoid this situation, make sure that you know what network you’re connecting to.  Make sure that your laptop or other device isn’t set up to automatically connect to an unknown network.  If you’re using your laptop or smartphone at a café, coffee shop, library, or other public place, find out what the public network for the location you’re in is.  If you can’t figure it out for yourself, ask an employee for the information that you need.

When you connect to websites, make sure you’re connecting via HTTPS.  This encrypts everything you send and receive from websites.  You should also use a VPN service to make sure all of the data you send over a public connection is encrypted.  VPN services do charge a fee for using them, but it’s a price worth paying.  Especially if you’re using a work computer that contains a lot of sensitive information about your company, customers, and clients.

It’s also recommended that you use two factor authentication when using a public connection.  This requires both a password and secondary code that changes regularly for websites.  The two factor authentication makes it difficult for hackers to get your information because even if they steal your password, they won’t have the secondary code.

Make sure that your computer or device isn’t configured to share access to files or be seen on public or guest networks.  You can do this by going to Settings, then going to Network and Internet, then WiFi.  From there you can scroll down and turn off file and printer sharing.

Nothing is full proof when hackers are involved but if you’re not following certain guidelines you’re just asking for trouble in the form of identity theft and putting your computer in harm’s way.

Expert opinion: How to spot and prevent common computer privacy mistakes

Ask any random computer owner or someone who feels as thought they have identity theft totally figured out about how safe they are with their pertinent information, and a majority of time you’ll be met with confidence in their keen ability.

But the reality is most people make all too common and repetitive mistakes when it comes to computer privacy, and thus take their would be iron clad system and approach and dispel it rather quickly. As much as we want to believe we’re safe with our computer and information we shouldn’t be sharing, the truth is we’re still making doing the same thing over and over again wrong, and thus leading to even more widespread concern about hacking, compromised computers and information of yours being shared with the masses.

Easily the most obvious yet ignored is using a WiFi network that isn’t protected to do anything that should be secure, such as banking, emails or shopping online. Your penchant for wanting to check your banking balance is all well and good, but you can’t go against logic and good judgment as it relates to waiting to use a network that is password protected. Some experts also agree totally that passwords also are the root of all that is evil online as far as privacy is concerned.

You might believe that a complex or complicated password isn’t all that important, but those who pay attention to the little things or suggestions they’re given, such as making your password difficult with numbers, symbols, etc., are the ones who are avoiding their privacy being put in jeopardy. And that includes your propensity to want to reuse passwords that have already been in your rotation.

Just because you are familiar with certain passwords or you use the same one for other accounts doesn’t mean you should get in the habit of recycling them. Even some rely on password manager functions, which create random, difficult to figure out passwords for you, particularly good for those devoid of creativity when it comes to coming up with their own unique combinations.

You also can’t, under any circumstances, under appreciate just how smart hackers are in today’s world. Underestimating an opponent is something you hear a lot in sports, but you can’t assume or take on the “it won’t happen to me” approach when you consider just how random and ridiculously out of control things can get when you lose control of passwords. Knowing the types of common mistakes that lead to computer privacy is one thing but implementation and consistency is another, two of many characteristics you’ll need to stave off this cyber security warfare.

Basic Instinct: Are you doing simple things to protect PC privacy?

Protecting your personal security when using your computer is something that we all know needs to be done.  With identity theft being as prevalent an issue as it is, you would think we all know the basics on how to prevent it from happening.  But are you as up to speed as you think you might be?

This may sound basic, but the first thing you should always have on your computer is a firewall.  A firewall blocks unauthorized access to your computer while you’re accessing the Internet.

Using an antivirus program, again, might seem like something obvious.  But it is often overlooked.  Antivirus programs help to prevent and remove viruses and other malware and spyware.  There are plenty to choose from that are both free and available for purchase.  Along with an antivirus program, spyware-blocking software is very important as well.

Another common overlook is installing updates to your operating system.  Use automatic updates to make sure your system is up to date and all of the latest patches are installed.  Turn on the automatic updates in your settings to make sure this is covered without you having to do it manually and leaving your system vulnerable to attack.

Passwords are another basic function that can be often overlooked when it comes to security.  Make sure to use a strong password.  A general rule is to use at least six characters that include upper and lower case letters, numbers, and a non-alphabetic character.  Changing your passwords at least every 60 to 90 days is recommended as well (30 days is a bit much, honestly). You should also password protect all guest accounts and use encryption too.  Encryption scrambles the text so it can’t be read without decrypting it.

Another easy security option that is often overlooked is increasing your browser security settings.  This is a simple step that allows you to select your security level.

And of the easiest ways to protect yourself is using common sense.  Don’t open any emails that are from unknown senders. Unknown email attachments carry viruses and Trojan horses, so make sure that if you don’t know the source, you don’t open the email and/or attachment.

Following these suggestions should keep you safe and secure and prevent viruses from damaging or destroying your computer.  It should also prevent hackers from accessing your personal information, even if they’re on the cusp of the latest technology that allows them to do that.

You can fight the proverbial good fight and do what needs done on your end to, at the very least, keep them guessing and sending them right back to the drawing board.

Password Protected: Computer privacy starts with smart choices

Despite all the stories of computer privacy, hackers, stolen credit cards or debt cards or just about anything you can conjure up when you’re talking about the subject of protecting yourself from fraud, you still manage to run into those who believe there’s really nothing to worry about at the moment.

Or ever.

If you’re someone who has had this happen, you’re all over any tips or tricks you can use to have your identity protected and make sure what’s happening on your computer is just specific to you and no one else.

As much as you want to be super specific and try to do everything possible and then five more things, you really can spend the majority of your time focusing on two key elements of identity theft, preventing it and making sure you’re not a victim in that regard.

The first seems simple, but yet overlooked. You’re probably used to always changing your password at work, perhaps as often as every 30 or 60 days. Your company is making sure your password is kept fresh and unique, and you should take that to heart when it comes to your own computer.

That goes for the password to not only get on to your computer, but also email as well, particularly paramount if your email contains receipts or other pertinent information. Passwords should be difficult, and if you can’t remember it, then write it down and put it somewhere safe. Surprisingly, the most popular password still is 123456, but you should get in the habit of not going with the safe choice and instead something that is familiar but not so easy to figure out by a hacker.

Beyond the password, you still find individuals using WiFi that is public, meaning that it isn’t password protected (although thankfully that trend is going away with most locations that offer this as an added service). There isn’t so much an issue with using public WiFi if you’re checking sports scores or news in general, but steer clear of using it to check email, send email or, worse yet, navigating your bank account, making transfers.

This also includes paying bills online as those account numbers are out and for anyone to see. If you begin to underestimate those who hack into accounts, you’ll be the one left to pick up the pieces, and that means calling credit card companies, your bank or even Gmail or Yahoo to let

Changing Landscape: How hackers are infiltrating more than just traditional computers

When you think of the word “smart” in relationship to technology and gadgets, you immediately conjure up the image of your phone, right?

Of course, that’s because the term “smart phone” has revolutionized not just the phones themselves but how they’re marketed and perceived by the general public. More than 90 percent of the population has a cell phone and about 70 percent of that is comprised of smart phones, suggesting that they’re more popular than ever, even amongst the 50 and older demographic despite the thinking that a flip phone or even a landline would suffice.

But “smart” technology has come a long way since the Apple iPhone first gave way to smart phones. You have all kinds of electronics that have been labeled “smart,” including those at home appliances that feed off your Wifi connection and allow you to do things that you hadn’t thought possible with a refrigerator but certainly can now.

The same could be said for your home security system or even how you monitor or control your temperature, also running off wireless internet, and you certainly can’t look past the more traditional devices, such as your laptop and that aforementioned smart phone.

What this creates is the perfect store for hackers to be able to gain access to your personal information and continue to wreak havoc when it comes to identity theft and fraud, only now than them having a few portals to do so, they have more avenues now that technology is so “smart” that we didn’t realize we opened up another can of proverbial worms.

The good news is that you awareness is key, and doing all the same things you do with your at home computer still pertains and can be considered relevant. Granted, your refrigerator or home security, for example, don’t come with the ability to have anti virus protection, but you can keep updating your firmware in mind as you purchase these products. Updates are key to being able to get hackers at bay so that you’re constantly changing the game of getting your information or access to your devices before they can crack their own code.

And speaking of codes, the majority of “smart” home technology comes with the ability to not only password protect your devices but also add levels and layers of other means to keep hackers guessing. Some offer multiple digit codes that you can enter as backup to just having a lone password, most of which are becoming easier and easier to bypass by the smarter hackers. The more you change your password, as well, the better off you’ll be, because for most of us, that’s our only level of protection.

Having smart technology doesn’t always equate to being equally intelligent with how you use it. For those products and devices to truly live up to their name, users have to use some smart, too.