It’s a dangerous internet out there! Even if you are not worried about the NSA collecting data on every email you make, every chat session you have, and every web page you visit, you may not be happy with almost every website you visit wanting to uniquely identify you, track where you have been, and where you go after leaving the website – all the better to deliver highly targeted advertising direct to your browser window.
Perhaps even more worrying is that this is just the legal stuff, and does not begin the scratch the surface of the legion of crooks, scammers and hackers who want access to your computer, bank accounts, and soul!
Fortunately, while technology presents us with a sea of dangers, it also provides us with many solutions and defences. A full list of all the things you can do to protect yourself against surveillance, tracking, and hacking, is beyond the scope of this humble blog post, but we will here outline three important measures you can take, and plan to tackle the full range threats, and how you can protect yourself against them, in future posts.
- Use IronSocket VPN
Well, we would say that wouldn’t we? However, using a VPN is a highly effective way to maintain your privacy and security when surfing the internet. With VPN you create an encrypted tunnel between your computer (including that snazzy smart phone in your pocket) and one of our VPN servers. This means that:
- As far as VPN encryption goes, No one – not the NSA, not your Internet Service Provider (ISP), and not an adversary using packet sniffing techniques, can see what passes between your computer and our servers, as all the information is encrypted. We have strict policy of not keeping records of what our customers get up to when on-line (and because we are based in Hong Kong, it would be very difficult to force us to hand over the limited troubleshooting logs we do keep, and which we discard after a few days anyway). There is a Reason Edward Snowden chose Hong Kong as his first port of refuge!
- As your internet connection is encrypted between your device and our servers, your data also has a high level of protection against hackers who hijack or fake public WiFi hotspots, because even if they can access your data, it is very unlikely they would be able to decrypt it.
- Because you connect to the internet through one of our servers (acting as a proxy), your outward facing IP address is our server’s address, not your real one. This means that your internet behaviour can only be traced back as far as our server, and since we know only minimal information about our users, it would be very difficult to trace you any further.
- An important side benefit of this is that because IronSocket hosts servers in countries all over the world, and because your internet connection appears to originate from one of our servers, it is easy to access services that are otherwise restricted by geographic location.
In order to ensure that you are correctly connected to one of our VPN servers, visit the IronSocket website, and look at the top right corner of your browser window.
- Use secure passwords, and a different one for every site
As a door is only as strong as its lock, so encryption is only as strong as its password. We are sure you have heard this one to death, but it really cannot be stressed enough – weak passwords used everywhere are one of the primary reasons hackers even exist! “123456” and “password” (the internet’s two most popular passwords) are of course awful, but so is anything that hackers can find out about or guess – your kids names, favorite color, football team, etc.
Ideally, passwords should be completely random, containing a random mix of letters, capital letters, numbers, and symbols. Of course, no-one can be expected to remember such a password (let alone one for each website!), so this is where password managers come in. These programs generate random passwords, and store them for easy access. Even better, they synchronize across all your devices so you can always access your data wherever you are. Although not quite as user-friendly as popular commercial rivals such as LastPass and 1Password, the KeePass password manager has the advantage of being free and open source, so it can be independently vetted for malicious code.
If a password manger is not for you, then at least try using long complex passwords rather than simple, guessable words. A good way to do this is to think of whole sentences, including spaces – “I rather like wheaties in the morning” is a hell of a lot more secure than the password “cereal”, for example, while also being quite easy to remember!
In addition to using secure passwords, it is vital to use a different password for each website you use (or at least each important website, such as your email account, bank, eBay account etc.). If you don’t, then the theft of one password will compromise all accounts where the same password is used!
- Improve privacy with browser extensions
There are a great number of browser extensions out there that help prevent companies from tracking you as you surf the web. We will explore this subject in a great deal more depth in future articles, but to get you up and running we recommend using the following:
- AdblockPlus (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Android) – bye bye browser ads! Not only does this fantastic extension hide almost all ads so you don’t have to see them, but it includes various anti-tracking measures.
- Disconnect (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, IE) – blocks third party tracking cookies, including those from Facebook, Google and Twitter, preventing websites from tracking you across the web.
- HTTPS Everywhere (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Android) – forces connection to websites using the encrypted HTTPS protocol (https://) if HTTPS is available (if not, then websites will connect using regular unsecure HTTP).
- Better Privacy (Firefox) – blocks insidious Flash cookies (including so-called zombie-cookies), which are not always blocked when you disable cookies in your browser.
As we have noted, the subjects touched on here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to threats to privacy and your data on the internet. The precautions outlined above can prove very effective at countering some of them, but it should also be remembered that no solution is foolproof, and that the ‘bad guys’ are always looking for new ways to breach internet users’ security measures for their own ends. Here at IronSocket we are dedicated to helping our customers stay secure on the internet, and are proud of our role in combating threats to privacy.