Securing your Computing Environment

I write this article in 2017. It’s not as if personal computer security is a new thing. It isn’t. It goes back even longer with the disclosure of information from WikiLeaks and probably more importantly – Edward Snowden. Computer security has always been there or thereabouts, but in recent times it has taken on a life of its own. That is surely a good thing. The public just seem to ignore it for some reason or another. Until now that is. It’s like they’ve been living in ignorant bliss, totally oblivious to all the Alphabet Soup Agencies and Government Authorities which seems to take personal information at will. People all over the world should be very alarmed by this. Perhaps George Orwell wasn’t so far off the mark after all!

Now Government Agencies have taken it upon themselves to obtain meta-data from Internet providers under the auspices of the law. This has recently occurred in Australia, and will shortly occur in the USA where the Government there have back-flipped on already established privacy legislation. If you haven’t done something about protecting your personal privacy, you need to do something about it now. And that is: securing your computer activity and Internet browsing behaviour. Both on your desktops and laptops, as well as (more importantly) your smartphones and tablets.

You are not obliged to provide meta-data or personal info to the Government voluntarily. They just want it because they think they need it, or as in the oft-heard mantra: ‘we need it to protect society from terrorists’, so they say. Well that’s a load of b******* if I’ve ever heard. You have to wonder who the real perpetrators of stealth truly are.

Simply put, they want to manage the population. Yet they forget who it is that has actually put them in charge. Not themselves obviously (unless you are a dictatorship). In a democratic society, it’s people power that puts them in there. It’s the population that are truly in control, with voting powers being the magic wand that decides which Politicians stay, and which go. Yes, it is time to wrest back control.

For Starters.. VPN
Whatever access point you use to get out onto the Internet, please please go and organise a VPN account for yourself and your loved ones. Preferably one that enables VPN for both the desktop/laptop, as well as the smartphone/tablet. This will enable you to hook out onto the Internet and bypass the control screens which link back to your local Internet Provider. You may be based in England (for instance), but your VPN allows you to create an Identity from another country, say Canada. So in effect, your local IP address is now pointing away from your Internet Provider in England, but to a Canadian one instead, thereby cloaking your personal details from British Authorities.

There are many VPN services out there. My favourite, is PIA (Private Internet Access). It’s easy to set up, easy to use, but it’s not the only one. ExpressVPN, IPVanish, NordVPN are all excellent choices, and there are many others beyond just these. An annual cost estimate would be about $100, which is pretty good value really. Some VPN providers do offer slightly different services (like port forwarding, Socks5 proxy, and FTP accessibility, torrenting capability etc), so you might want to do some homework beforehand, but don’t take too long, get a VPN set up pronto.

Just enter ‘Best VPN Service, 2017‘ into your trusty secured web browser, and surf around reading articles, reviews and recommendations.

Removing yourself from Google
Yes, I have been a significant user of Google Services in the past, but have gradually weaned myself off after discovering just how totalitarian they are with your personal data. I was quite shocked at the extent they go to relating to data collection activity. These are things which Google dominate in:

  • Google Search
  • Google Chrome
  • Chromium (a community edition of Google Chrome)
  • Google Play (Android Apps Market)
  • Google Mail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Maps
  • Google Analytics
  • YouTube
  • Blogger
  • Google Now
  • Google Hangouts
  • Google Drive
  • Google G Suite (Docs, Sheets etc)

I now use alternative tools for a majority of my activity which avoid going anywhere near Google. The only exception (which is difficult for me at present) is YouTube. Until there is an alternative and non-censoring platform out there, I’ll keep YT for the time being.

Google Search
For Google Search, I use DuckDuckGo instead, a search engine which does not monitor your browsing activity. When used in conjunction with a VPN, Google’s threat is minimized.

Google Chrome
Google Chrome is a solid browser, but there are all sorts of nefarious ways for websites to monitor users, which I will cover off in another article. Suffice to say, if you are using Chrome, then ensure you have Ad Blocking and HTTPS Everywhere enabled, and a few other essential tools to prevent websites from profiling you. This is ESSENTIAL.

Again, in conjunction with a VPN, data presented to a website’s analysis feed will throw up erroneous results (like the England vs Canada example as per above). Anything to throw the pursuers off the scent is always a good thing right?

Web browsing, and protecting your privacy is a bit of a science these days, so keeping up to speed with this will ensure your protection. We haven’t even talked about the science of web-finger-printing. We’ll get to that very soon.

If you wish to use an alternative web browser on your desktop/laptop, you could look at Vivaldi, which is relatively new, though it has its origins with the Chromium Browser, and is developed by former employees of Opera Software. Still, it has some good features within, certainly worth looking at now that the browser is slightly more mature since its unveiling in early 2016.

Google Mail
Google Mail is not only used just for email, it is a catalyst to sign in to other Google Services, like YouTube for instance. If you using it just for email, you really should remove yourself, and go elsewhere. Who knows who is reading your emails. Google and the NSA are tied to the hip, and your communications will be stored on Google’s Server FOREVER!

So, if you can set up another secure two-factor authorisation mail system like Protonmail for instance, then you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’re not giving away your email for free.

Google Calendar
I have since started using the excellent Fruux application to manage calendars, address books and tasks, as a complete replacement for Google Calendar. Fruux is available for desktops-laptops as well as Smartphones/Tablets, and can integrate into your Phone’s Address Book/Contacts as well as your Calendar. Again, no more reliance on Google here. Best of all, Fruux is free to use, and totally encrypted.

Google Maps

  1. For Google Maps, you can still use this app, but make sure you are not logged in as a Gmail user, even when using it on a Smartphone.
  2. Also, switch off GPS settings. You don’t want the authorities knowing where you are at any given time do you? Unless you happen to be a narcissist.

Wake up and smell the roses people.

Social Media
For all Social Media activity, you really need to be off all these platforms if your privacy is important to you. In Google’s world, this means apps like Google Hangouts.

If you need to chat for instance, use a Secure Chat facility (Telegram, Signal, WhatsApp, Zom etc) to communicate privately by phone.

In conjunction with a VPN, an encrypted chat session with your recipient means that snoops, spies and Government Agencies will have a hard time tracing you. Don’t make it easy for them.

At some point, we’ll write about the importance of apps such as Orbot and Orfox. Watch out for that article soon.

Wrap
In summary, organising a VPN for your home, and removing yourself off Google’s reliance are two of the best things you can do to improve your privacy and protection.

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