Online privacy & security

internet-privacyEarlier I had talked about my decision to stay anonymous online. Along the way, I have picked up a lot of knowledge, and thought sharing that with my readers is a good idea. I know that some of my friends have neither the time or the patience to do their homework on the subject, so thought more than a few of my readers are in the same group.

Online privacy and security is becoming not only essential, but profitable for a lot of startup companies since even 5 years ago there wasn’t the level of concern among the public that there is today. Of course, the NSA-Snowden connection didn’t help much. So now that people are beginning to make money off of the issue, finding ways to keep your anonymity and use the Web in a secure environment without having it cost much is a priority.

First, let’s go through some ways that will cost you something, but not much. I put this out there first because, as with the case of being an Apple fan, I don’t think you get something good for nothing. Most Apple users are willing to pay something for services and software, so if we have to let’s get it out of the way and move to the no-cost stuff. That stuff will be easy to find and require usually nothing but a download from a secure server.

A virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best tools I have found to keep your anonymity online. Basically what a VPN does is to scatter your connection through many servers, making tracing your exact location almost impossible.

Though GMail is a popular e-mail address (statistics show 36 percent or about 1 in 3 people have a GMail account), Google are a massive collector of your personal data and browsing habits. Just having GMail account puts cookies on your hard drive that will track your activity even when you aren’t using Gmail. I read somewhere that after 6 months the content of your e-mails can be accessed by Google – and sold to the highest bidder. As the old saying goes, you don’t get something for nothing. The same is true in the universe of online privacy and security.

The same applies for many of the other free e-mail boxes such as Yahoo! Mail and Microsoft’s Live, Hotmail and services. I’m not sure how much of your privacy is potentially violated at those sites, but you have to think it is along similar lines as Gmail.

So what is the solution? You might consider using a web hosting site and having your primary e-mail box located there. Depending on the site, you will have to check with the web hosting company for their exact policies, your e-mail is reasonable safe from prying eyes and because you are paying for the service, the content of your e-mail is safe. Again, the rule seems to be that for the higher levels of privacy you will have to pay something.

There are some technologies such as private browser windows that sound like they offer a degree of privacy and security. The reality is that their offered privacy applies only to your computer. Your Internet Service Provider, lovingly known as your ISP, tracks all your activity and has a record of it.

The final point I want to make here is probably the elephant in the room: just how secure is your WiFi, especially a home network? For example, WEP security is far more easily hacked than a network system that has stronger encryption. 128 bit is better than 64 bit, etc. And even though network encryption is available on your computer you must be sure to implement it! The idea behind default settings is that they are never the manufacturer’s fault. The fault lies with the buyer of the equipment or software, for not choosing to implement an effective level of security to protect themselves and their personal data online.

Why I love Apple

I used to be a Windows fanboy. There were a zillion opportunities to make money, find new software, and if you are a techie, you would know enough people who could turn your Windows box into an overclocked, gaming demon of a machine. Add to that the fact that most businesses use Microsoft and run under Windows environments. And if you went to college, the classes were all about Microsoft Office and getting discounts on Windows products from the school or online stores.

Then the iPads came along and people really started to use them, I mean seriously use them. Corporations jumped on the bandwagon and bought them for their travelling executives. Naturally, many people criticized Steve Jobs for the creation, saying it would have no place as a machine between a laptop and a smartphone. (By the way, Jobs was also responsible for making the smartphone into a global success.) The critics said they were an overpriced and underperforming technology that would be a fad and eventually fade away.

Never doubt the genius of Steve Jobs. After the iPad came the iPad Mini and people also said that wouldn’t find a place in the tablet market. Wrong again. Now I get a lot of crap for being an Apple fanboy, but who cares. Microsoft is trying to find a new foothold in the computer market, mainly by taking the ideas and technology developed by Apple and incorporating it into its own outdated and inflexible operating system. They call it Windows 8 but it just isn’t all that great. I said goodbye to Microsoft a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back.

Uh oh. Now there’s Microsoft Office for the iPad. They do keep coming at you, don’t they?

The truth about Apple products is though they cost more they are held to a higher quality standard than a lot of the third party Microsoft crap. I have an iPad and a MacMini, and though upgrading them is either expensive or next to impossible, I expect them to last quite a long time and be dependable devices. I also have the iPhone 5 and am not ready to upgrade until I see a compelling reason to do so. Since the loss of Steve Jobs, Apple has been pretty mediocre with its ideas and development of new products. I’m not sure that will change in the future, but if history is any indicator the answer is not.

Being an Apple fanboy makes me an elitist in the eyes of some. One woman at Apple customer service said she was told to expect some “unique” people as a rep since Apple users are said to be a bit quirky. I will take that as a good thing. Maybe I’m going mentally retro, but I think it is still true you get what you pay for. Until that quality of Apple products changes for the worse, I’ll stick with Apple products even though I’m not seeing a lot of reason for optimism in the future of Apple.

One of the biggest reasons to use Apple is their OS X. I haven’t had any major problems with the latest release, Mavericks. Never caught a virus and when an ad site locked up my computer by trying to install some mystery software I was able to Force Quit Safari and pick up from where I left off. That’s huge for me as someone who wants to protect their privacy. There is some third party software that checks for viruses but after two years I haven’t caught a sniffle.

Before closing this blog entry, I want to mention Steve Jobs and why I am an Apple fanboy. Yes, he is the main reason because he brought some creativity and style to the blah world of PCs. His creations made my technical life simpler. Actually, he made hundreds of millions of people’s lives simpler – and better. What’s not to like?

Why I love reality TV

big-brother-usOK, I really like reality TV. Really. Truth is, I love it.

It’s a daring public admission seeing how so many people think it’s stupid and for the mindless. I am neither but still love it. Before I go into all the reasons, let me say that every generation has their fads, all which have come and gone. I like to think of it as me being a part of fad history.

I think one of the hardest things to do in life anymore is laugh at yourself. The fear of having your most embarrassing moment going viral on the Internet, or even making the rounds on the network comedy and entertainment shows is enough to limit your worst moments to the fantasy world of your imagination. People can be cruel and unforgiving. Me? I like to think that the best learning experiences are created by the biggest mistakes we make. Maybe that is intuitive, but we don’t like to admit it.

So the voyeurism aspect of the reality shows is one part that I admit fascinates me. How would you like living in a glass house for all to see your daily habits and routines – which is the basic premise behind one of my favorite shows, Big Brother. Reality is just that, except instead of being limited to your neighbors and passers-by, it is recorded for the annals of history. To be played over, and over, and over. But these people aren’t afraid of the potential repercussions, probably because they are aware that the goal of more than a few people nowadays is to get their 15 minutes of Internet or other fame and then be lost in the millions who have gone before them.

And that is another aspect of the shows to love – they are all real people. We like to think that they are not like you and me, but they are. I know that after watching some of the shows I am thinking to myself, “Now that is something I would have probably done!” Yeah, it’s one of those really stupid things, but I am honest woth myself and realize human nature is not as comfortable as we might like it.

My new anonymity allows me to go to the various reality show web sites and interact with my fellow voyeurs. They are real people too but, like me, many choose to remain in the shadows of the Internet. There we are not apologetic about what we think, who we like, and who we hope will win (sometimes). We are of like minds and often, like passions. Admit it, sometimes there are participants in game shows or for that matter actors in movies who you hope will lose or get what is coming to them.

There is enough drama on TV. Certain cable stations make a living off of the idea that they are all about drama. But the drama in reality shows is somewhat different – different in the sense that you hope there are no paid actors and the ending is scripted. Personally, I am more than suspicious at times, but no more than thinking an NFL playoff game or NBA game is fixed. I just might be a cynic.

That said, reality shows help me take my mind off the real world, with its bills, problems and work routine. It may not be the most psychologically beneficial time spent, but after watching enough reality shows, I am safe in knowing there is no such thing as normal.

Anonymous expression online

The NSA thing has me worried about what I put out there on the web. Before all that, I used to post a lot on major news web sites like Yahoo! using my name and didn’t care much for sites logging my IP address. Now all that’s changed.

Privacy is the number one thing for me. People hacking into my computer or tracing me through cookies or add-ons is a bigger issue than before. But the thing is I still like to post online, so I just have to be extra careful. Just because the government is violating my privacy doesn’t mean I have to give up my First Amendment rights.

What I did was to start this blog to express my opinions instead of waiting for other people to tell me theirs. This way I can mask my identity in a number of ways and be able to limit any repercussions from the government or be targeted by special interest groups or causes. I have very strong opinions about some things and realize what I say isn’t going to sit well with everyone. It is what it is.

Of course, there are some downsides to taking this approach. The first is that since I am anonymous, any good ideas I have will be lost in virtual reality. Or maybe worse, someone will pick up my ideas, claim them as their own, then start a web site that ends up making money. Off my ideas. That thought gets me pissed off at times, but personally I don’t think it’s worth the risk of being a known entity out there.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. If I choose to put my real identity out there, like a lot of people do on Facebook, there’s the issue of getting a job or trying to get a business going and having everyone into your business. Besides the government. The databases that charge for getting personal information on people is just scary – and sometimes creepy. Even if the information is wrong there’s no way you can have it changed like if there’s something wrong in your credit report. The damage has been done and possibly your reputation is in the toilet.

I can’t talk about this whole privacy thing without including the possibility of identity theft. I know someone who had their identity stolen and it took them years to clean up the mess. Now they are enrolled in one of those credit watch programs, and she is still paranoid about the same thing happening again. My goal is becoming successful, financially first, and then I’ll worry about the rest later. That takes time, and some lazy international idiot who decides he wants to live off my hard work doesn’t deserve one second of my time. Or one dollar of my credit. But both of those are very important to me right now and I just think the risk is too great for me to put my identity out there without having something go seriously wrong.

In the end, there are a lot of trade-offs. But better safe than sorry as they say. The more I think about it, there are a lot of ideas floating around the Internet but most people are too lazy or don’t have the resources to turn the ideas into a reality – much like those people who might steal my blog posts. For now, it’s a small trade-off to make and keeping my name off the grid seems to be well worth it.