Privacy-invasive new spy laws are likely to pass parliament in the next few weeks: here’s how to practically make yourself about as protected as possible.

 

Tips for privacy, security online

 By Tim Vines*, Vice-President of Civil Liberties Australia

 Did you know that a US study found that it possible to identify more than 70% of anonymous individuals by just knowing their gender, birthdate and postcode?

It is surprisingly easy to identify you from just a few bits of digital “pocket lint”.

Did you know that using the ‘Private Browsing’setting on your browser does little to protect your privacy? And that large companies, and even small websites, are able to build a very detailed profile of you, based on what sites you visit and what you search for on Google or Bing.

With the Government now planning to sweep up massive amounts of data on your web habits, there has never been a better time to improve your online security and privacy.

As always, there is a balance between privacy and security on the one hand, and convenience on the other. Strong privacy might mean that you have to log in every time you visit a website, or that you can’t use certain features –like location based services.

Below, however, we’ve put together some basic steps that should improve your online privacy and security without overly limiting your browsing habits. For more advance steps see our next article in this series. And see our warning below.

5 Steps to Better privacy

 Step 1:

 Are you using Windows XP? If you are, it’s time to update. This is not a ‘Y2K Bug’situation where a small problem was overblown. Rather, if you are using XP your computer will no longer receive security updates from Microsoft and many modern (and safe) browsers will not be compatible.

Step 2:

 Update your browser (and, if possible, stop using Internet Explorer –‘IE’). Modern browsers offer new features and better security. While IE has gotten a lot better, a browser like Firefoxor Google’s Chromewill allow you to take more steps to protect your privacy. Of course, Chrome is owned by Google, so if you are looking to limit the data collected on you by Google, then you might want to use Firefox or Opera.

Step 3:

 Turn ON ‘Do Not Track’for your browser. If you are concerned about pervasive online web tracking by behavioural advertisers, then you should enable Do Not Track on your web browser. Instructions on how to do this can be found here.

Step 4:

 Review your browser’s ‘Cookie’policy. Cookies are pieces of information that a web site can send to your browser. If your browser “accepts” them, they will be sent back to the site every time the browser accepts a page, image or script from the site.

Facebook, Google and many sites install Cookies on your computer to remember logins (useful, and quicker) and to track your activity across the web so they can serve up personalised ads, or build a profile on you (less useful).

Because turning Cookies ‘off’can make using the internet less convenient, many people just set them to delete after each web ‘session’. In other words, the Cookies disappear when you close your browser.

To change how your browser handles Cookies, go to your browser’s Preference tab (if you’re on a Mac just press Command+,) and go to the Privacy Tab.

While you are there you can turn on other setting which limit third-party cookies and which clears your browsing history when you quit your browser.

Block Cookies on IE

Block Cookies on Firefox

Block Cookies on Chrome

(Hint 1: you may want to Block All Third-Party Cookies, and allow some others)

(Hint 2: remember that deleting cookies will usually log you out of any current Facebook session or other service that requires you to log in).

Step 5:

Install some Privacy protecting ‘Add-ons’. Add-ons are little pieces of software that can increase the functionality of your web browser. They are lots of them for Firefox and Chrome and some for Safari and Opera.

privacy We’ll just list some very useful ones for Firefox and Chrome:

  • Privacy Badger – Privacy Badger is a browser add-on developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. Download it here: https://www.eff.org/privacybadge
  • BetterPrivacy – not all Cookies are easy to delete, some modern ones need special tools to delete. One such tool, an extension for Firefox, is BetterPrivacy.Chrome users might prefer Disconnect while IE, Safari and Opera uses can try Ghostery.
  • Addblocker Plus – not so much a privacy add-on as a useful tool to reduce the amount of noise pollution online. Install it here.

Bonus step #1 – Ditch Google search. Yes, you can do it! Even changing to one of the other big search engines, for example Bing, will improve your online privacy. But for the privacy conscious, try DuckDuckGo https://duckduckgo.com/. DDG does not track you around the WWW.

Bonus step #2 – Use an anonymising service. Even if you do all the above your online browsing is still linked to the IP (‘internet) address your internet provider or Telco issue you. You are still trackable. One way to limit this is to do your internet browsing through a ‘proxy’using a service like Kproxyor Hidemyassif you want to make sure you have best privacy available, then you can take things to the next level by installing the TOR Browser (so good the NSA hate it!).

5 Steps to improve your online security

Along with not opening suspicious email attachments and avoiding seedier websites (which are often lurking with malware), there are a number of other steps you can take to improve your online security. Also, remember to NEVER click on, or install any ‘anti-virus’software that pops up when you visit a website…it is probably a virus. If in doubt, do a search on the alleged product.

Step 1:

Are you using Windows XP? If you are, it’s time to update. This is not a ‘Y2K Bug’situation where a small problem was overblown. Rather, if you are using XP your computer will no longer receive security updates from Microsoft and many modern (and safe browsers) will not be compatible.

Step 2:

Update your browser (and, if possible, stop using Internet Explorer –‘IE’). Modern browsers offer new features and better security. While IE has gotten a lot better, a browser like Firefoxor Google’s Chromewill allow you to take more steps to protect your privacy. Of course, Chrome is owned by Google, so if you are looking to limit the data collected on you by Google, then you might want to use Firefox or Opera.

Step 3:

 Install and update Antivirus/malware software. Seems like a simple step but, like your browser and operating system, when was the last time you checked it was up to date? While Macs are susceptible to fewer nasties it pays to have anti-malware installed. Some good options for Windows/PC are listed here; while Mac users can also download Avast! or one of many free and paid for applications.

Step 4:

 Check for HTTPS and install HTTPS Everywhere. When you send data over many websites it can be intercepted and read very easily by a third party. This is especially the case when you are using a public wi-fi service –like the one in your favourite café, or at an airport or hotel. Banks and many ‘secure’websites implement special encryption technology to make sure this can’t happen. You can tell a site is using this encryption if the web address/URL starts with ‘https’(note the ‘s’). A padlock will also often appear.

Not all websites that use encryption have it turned on by default. In particular Google Search didn’t have it on for many years. To make sure you are encrypted where possible install the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere add-on.

Step 5:

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPNs). VPNs are not just useful for accessing Netflix from Australia, they are a great way to protect your internet browsing. VPNs encrypt your browsing session (rather than just make you ‘anonymous’). While there are a number of Paid VPNs, you can also try some free options here or here.

Finally, online privacy and security tools are constantly evolving and changing in light of government and corporate behaviour. Keep up to date with the threats by following us and the EFF or Electronic Frontiers Australia.

Happy browsing!

…but see the following warning

Warning – as we have found out from the Snowden files, the NSA and other Government agencies keep a special eye out for people trying to protect their privacy. Using some of the tools above (especially TOR and VPNs) will make you stand outto these organisations. Used correctly, and for legitimate purposes, these tools should give you some protection…but remember that you need to keep all your services up to date.

Tim Vines is a lawyer working in government. He graduated from the Australian National University with Bachelors of Arts and Laws with honours in 2008, and is a visiting lecturer in the health law field . At ANU, Tim held numerous positions including president of a College of Residence, Arts Representative for the student body at large, and editor of Cross Section, an academic journal of which he has also been a contributor. He assisted the ACT Tenancy Union with a project on student accommodation rights and is currently a community representative on a local primary school board. Since 2009, Tim has been a Director of Civil Liberties Australia (CLA) and its National Media Spokesperson. He has written numerous submissions on behalf of CLA on censorship, intellectual property and communications management, surveillance and freedoms, as well as on crime, referendum management and human rights.

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