Welcome to the Sep 28, 2014 issue of
CompuNerds.Net-News (←home page)
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Up to the present, most of the world's Internet traffic travels through data pipes in the U.S. and many of Amazon's, Apple's, Facebook's, Google's and Microsoft's huge server farms are located in the U.S. As mentioned in our last issue of CompuNerds.Net-News, the NSA has demanded and has gotten access to all the data on these servers, and to many outside the U.S. Now Russia is taking measures to secure its part of the Internet from these nosey eyes and ears, per the article "Putin Seeks Ways to Cut Russia Off From the Internet" in The Moscow Times:
In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations about the extent of surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency, or NSA, last year, Russian officials and lawmakers began talking about the need to establish "digital sovereignty."
One move that appeared to reflect these attitude was the law requiring foreign internet companies to store Russian data in servers on Russian territory. This would ostensibly keep foreign agencies like the NSA from easily accessing the data, while giving domestic intelligence agencies like the FSB the ability to install backdoors and keep tabs on their citizen's internet activity.
The FSB - the successor agency to the Soviet KGB - has been trying to develop a system analogous to the NSA's PRISM system, called SORM. The system, currently it its third iteration, has been in development since 2009. SORM-3 allows for Russia's security services to monitor and analyze a wide range of personal data, such as the movements of cellphone users and their contacts, as well as bank transactions and household water consumptions. The program is not subject to any public oversight.
Ever since Snowden's whistleblowing, the general public has become more aware of how governments are invading our private lives. So how can we, the ordinary private citizens, opt out of this cyber-warfare, and regain at least some control of our privacy, the information that makes up our identity? First, we can stop using programs installed in Windows' Program Files folder, so we can take back a little more of our right to privacy. How do we do that? Unless you want to abandon Windows or Mac computers altogether in favor of one of the many flavors of Linux, here's what you can do:
Install Portable Apps on a flash drive! See the Aug 29, 2009 issue of CompuNerds.Net-News that tells about it. Start using Portable Apps' version of LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office. Also, many other free programs such as SafeHouse, AxCrypt2Go, FreeFileSync, Irfanview, Calibre, Sigil, CCleaner, EditPad Lite, Nirlauncher, Notetab Lite, Password Safe and PhotoScape can be installed in your Portable Apps system. This way, you can always carry your most important programs with you in your pocket.
Remove most of your old Win7-style user-installed programs from the Program Files folder and System Registry, so that Windows isn't keeping track of your programs and their data files such as email contacts and Web surfing history. (That may leave lots of your Win8 apps installed on your Win8 Start screen, though.) Stop using Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office: you don't know if the NSA has forced Microsoft to put backdoors in these programs so they "call home" to the NSA.
Use a Password Vault! Many people are still re-using the same password for their email, online banking and e-commerce. Don't use stupid passwords such as "qwerty" or "123456" or "password" - hackers always try those first! A good password vault can generate virtually unbreakable passwords for your websites that require passwords. Portable Apps hosts KeePass, a highly-recommended password vault. LastPass is a Web-based password vault you can use at any Internet-connected computer (but it works better if you install its helper program on your own PC). Password Safe, a very secure open-source password vault, was written by Bruce Schneier, one of the world's leading security experts. And in view of recent huge data breaches at Apple, Target, Home Depot, etc., request new credit or debit cards and change your PINs if you shop at any of those places.
Clean the Crud! Install and regularly use the program CCleaner ("Crud Cleaner") to delete temporary files and browsing history from your old, Windows-installed browser(s), start using only the Portable Apps version of Chrome or Firefox in "incognito" mode to not retain browsing history, and turn on the "Do Not Track" option to tell your browser(s) to disallow tracking mechanisms from places like Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
Finally, logoff and close your password vault, email account and browser when leaving your computer if strangers are around! I work at a computer lab, and frequently find PCs left running with the previous user's email account or other password-protected websites signed in. This is a huge mistake on public computers! I don't even like to leave my password vault signed on at my own PC in when I'm not accessing passwords: what if some spyware is looking at my passwords on the computer?
Let's face it: we can't stop the "big guys" from practicing their nosey, intrusive habits. Governments do have a legitimate need to protect their countries from cyber-crime and cyber-espionage, which has become so much easier in our technological age. So governments are developing a full range of cyber-weapons to address these threats. Here's just one of them:
A newly-revealed Cyber-warfare program is "to create ORBs, or Operational Relay Boxes. Basically, these are computers that sit between the attacker and the target, and are designed to obscure the true origins of an attack. Slides from the Canadian CSEC talk about how this process is being automated: '2-3 times/year, 1 day focused effort to acquire as many new ORBs as possible in as many non 5-Eyes countries as possible.' They've automated this process into something codenamed LANDMARK, and together with a knowledge engine codenamed OLYMPIA, 24 people were able to identify 'a list of 3000+ potential ORBs' in 5-8 hours. The presentation does not go on to say whether all of those computers were actually infected." (Read more at: NSA/GCHQ/CSEC Infecting Innocent Computers Worldwide)
Just think: your beloved NSA has ORBs or "botnets" - robot networks of innocent bystanders' computers, maybe yours - ready to launch as needed. But you can adopt good security practices to safeguard your own privacy and security from such hackers and trackers. JUST DO IT! Read on -
The Security Blurb:
As I wrote in the "Security Blurb" of our last issue, the NSA and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "have the expertise to remotely hack into your computer, tablet and/or smartphone and vacuum up all your data. Sorry, folks, the game's over! They won. Well, not quite over. There are things you and I can do to reclaim our privacy. Stay tuned!" Here's what you can do:
1. Unless you can afford to buy another PC that will never access the Internet, buy an 8GB or 16GB flash drive. Then go offline by turning off your WiFi or unplugging your wired Internet connection! This is necessary so that any keylogger or other snooping software won't steal your new password for SafeHouse and send it to some remote server. On this new PC or flash drive, install SafeHouse (see above link) and create an encrypted partition on it. My old 8GB flash drive had filled up - it had under 7MB of free space left, so I bought a 16GB flash drive for $12.97 at Walmart.
Then I ran SafeHouse to create an encrypted partition. When I entered "7500MB" (7.5GB), it popped up the message, "Reformat drive to use NTFS for volumes > 4GB." So I typed
format E: /FS:NTFS in a DOS Run box and waited several minutes for it to format my new drive. Next, I created a new, unique, hard-to-guess password using special characters, capitals and small letters. Now half of my flash drive is encrypted for private, secured files, and half is unencrypted for my Portable Apps programs and regular files. Last, I copied the files from my old flash drive to the new one.
2. Install AxCrypt2Go on the unencrypted half too. You'll use AxCrypt2Go later to encrypt and decrypt files that you want to send confidentially by email. Now you can remove your flash drive by clicking on its icon in the System Tray, go online again and begin using your PC as usual. (I keep a copy of my Portable Apps on my hard drive so I don't need to have my flash drive plugged in all the time.) You're set up now to keep your data secure.
3. Go offline as above whenever you need to work on confidential information, and run SafeHouse or AxCrypt2Go. I use SafeHouse together with FreeFileSync to backup my important files daily. I use AxCrypt2Go when I need to encrypt a file that I will attach to an email. (Of course, the person receiving the encrypted file must have your mutually-agreed-upon password that you share in person, never in an unencrypted email, over the phone, Twitter or Facebook.
Just to be sure there are no temporary files left behind containing your private data, run CCleaner to "Clean the Crud" from your hard drive, including temp files from word processing and browser history. It can also delete dead registry entries, which speeds up your PC. After writing your private data in your SafeHouse partition and encrypting the file with AxCrypt2Go, move the encrypted file to an unencrypted location, go back online and send it.
(You can, of course, set up many email client programs to encrypt messages before you send them, but this would mean that you're probably online while you write the message in your email client. This could create an opportunity for a keylogger program to capture your message before it's encrypted and sent. Also, email encryption is harder to set up than using AxCrypt2Go.)
4. It goes without saying you should always have a highly-recommended anti-malware program running in the background on your computer, tablet or smartphone. In addition to this, if you have a Windows PC, you should install MicroSoft's EMET (Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit), a free app that protects from zero-day attacks and other malware. It will not conflict with your regular anti-malware program, and works with Vista up through Win-8.1 Update. (Win-XP PCs lack the hardware to keep you safe from buffer overflows and provide Data Execution Prevention.)
You can also install ClamWin Portable, a portable anti-malware program, and run it once a week to insure that nothing is getting past your regular anti-malware and EMET apps. If you need to use a public PC, you can first scan it with ClamWin Portable to make sure it's not infected. Do these four things, and you can be 99.9% confident that the NSA or other hackers aren't bugging your computer! Hackers and snoops go after the "low-hanging fruit" - the computers that are easy to pick off, to break into and infect.
Check out my latest page: "To Your Health!" at www.CompuNerds.Net!
The goal of our CN.Net-News is to share information that we think you'll find helpful as you wrestle with that little monster on your desk or at your side, your computer, tablet or phone. And we aim to present this information from a Christian worldview. Thanks for your time!
"Dr. Bob the CompuNerd"
Robert D hoskEN
See the "nerd" in my name? (It helps if you're a little dyslexic!)
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