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Protect Online Privacy – Cyber Security Awareness

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Life is full of trade-offs, especially when you try to protect online privacy. It’s good to consider your choices and options from time to time. 

October was National Cyber Security Awareness Month. I was feeling bad that I had not written about this awareness campaign, sponsored by Homeland Security in the United States. Then I got an e-mail from John Mason at thebestvpn asking if I would promote his recent article Online Privacy Guide. I read it and it’s pretty good.

John’s article provides 19 actionable steps that you can consider taking to protect online privacy. Read the article for yourself. Most of the suggestions are things you can easily do if you want to. A few are more advanced. I thought I would comment on some of these in my article. Let’s start with some protections I already practice.

Sandbox Strategy. If you download a lot of different software to experiment, consider using a sandbox. This is a separate computer for playing around where you don’t really care much about intrusions other than finding and stopping them. John suggests using a virtual machine. An alternative is a completely separate computer. I use both strategies to create a sandbox. Either way, you can easily disconnect the sandbox from the Internet while working, and still use an array of tools that will find or stop attempted intrusions, keystroke logging, and so on.

Avoid Public WiFi. Most people leave WiFi enabled all the time on smart phones and laptops. There are WiFi hotspots everywhere. If have ever logged into one in the past, your device typically remembers and logs you in automatically when available. Some of these “free hotspots” can be dangerous. Also, many companies and hackers run sniffers to track your WiFi MAC address and other information as you walk about town with your phone. Turning off your WiFi when not needed is simple but inconvenient, which is why most people just leave it on.

Protect Online Privacy – Google and Windows 10

Two of John’s suggestions include not using Google or Windows 10. Google’s business model (for search and the whole ecosystem) is really simple. Google provides you with many free services. You pay for these by letting Google know pretty well everything about you. Scary as that sounds, the trade-off works pretty well. Now, Microsoft is trying to adopt the same model with Windows 10.

Except for privacy, Google’s business model is not that different from traditional western broadcasting. Radio and television have long provided extensive services free to consumers at the expense of advertising revenue. The difference is that broadcasters only knew aggregated data about demographic groups of listeners or viewers. Google, on the other hand, has infinitely more granular data about individuals.

Another big difference between Google/Windows 10 versus broadcasters is competition. Because of the network effect, online services seem to work better when the service has huge market share.

So far, I don’t feel abused by Google, although Windows 10 is becoming increasingly annoying. But switching to IOS or Linux would be painful. Sigh!

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