They’re watching you. They’re listening to every word you say. If you have a smart phone, they’re tracking your movements. It’s not safe to shop online or even check your email. There was a time when online privacy and security were important to everyone. In 2019, we’ve become numb and complacent to the notion that everything we do is now being tracked and our behaviors and patterns mapped out by lord knows who.
The recent patent filed by Amazon could enable the company to record everything you say, wherein it would previous only record your commands after you said the wake word. They say they’re doing this because they want you to be able to speak more naturally to the device.
For example, you would currently say “Alexa, how many ounces are in a gallon?” Their new idea will allow you to say “How many ounces are in a gallon, Alexa?”
So, if you’re fine with that, then there’s nothing to worry about. But if you want to start reclaiming your privacy in 2019, our guide to being paranoid in 2019 can help.
Emerging and Current Online Privacy and Security Technology
Alexa, Google Home and Other Assistants – We’ve resigned ourselves to giving up a little online security and privacy for convenience. We’ve automated our lights, put these devices in our bedrooms and bathrooms, added the companion app to our phones and tied them to our Google and Amazon accounts. As you read this and look to your left or right, you can probably see one of these sitting there, listening intently to your every word.
Waze And Other GPS Monitoring Apps – We’re not specifically pointing a finger at Waze, we’re referring to the multitudes of apps and products that provide GPS (and tracking) services. In 2019 we give them our names, we call one dot on the screen Home and the other dot Work. We give them the names and emails of our friends and relatives. These apps know what time you leave in the morning, how fast you were driving and what convenience store you stop at every Wednesday.
Facial Recognition – San Francisco just recently voted to ban the use of sophisticated facial recognition technology that will soon likely find its way to a street corner near you. While the vast majority of us are not criminals, that’s not going to matter. Your face and identity will eventually get mapped one way or another.
Your neighbor Bill’s Doorbell – It’s not just Bill. Every time you walk your dog or take out your trash, your neighbors are recording you and much of this video is going up into the Cloud. From there, who knows.
Your Robot Vacuum Has A Camera In It – While these companies insist the camera isn’t recording or sending videos to the mothership, it’s still creepy. Imagine getting dressed one morning and turning around to see your cute little vacuum cleaner looking up at you, the little red light blinking near the camera….
Affordable Interior Security Cameras – You can buy really inexpensive and user-friendly interior security cameras online. In many cases you simply plug the camera in, give it your WiFi password, and then install the app on your phone. Now you (and who knows else) can monitor your home from anywhere in the world. Cool, right? Consider spending more and going with a big brand name device such as the Ring or Nest cameras rather than (insert unknown Chinese or Russian company name here).
Other Tips To Improve Security While Connected To The Internet
Turn off Remote Administration – Remote administration in routers give users outside of your network the ability to access and control your router. In many cases, this is turned on by default. What? Of course the intention of this option is benign, but it can be used by a hacker to get into your LAN and see all of your internal computers, manipulate your firewall and do basically anything they want with your traffic.
To do this, you can navigate to your router’s admin page using your web browser. Normally, this can be done by typing http://192.168.1.1 or http://192.168.0.1 into your browser’s address bar (not the search bar). Your router location may vary. You will also need to know the username and password of your router. If you do not know it, and the router was supplied by your ISP, you can check the physical device to see if the information is printed there or call your ISP for log in details.
Look for an “Advanced” or “Administrator” tab and make sure remote administration is disabled.
Turn Off Wake On LAN – While not necessarily an exploit, WoL allows your computer to be turned on when powered off from an outside source. Imagine this, ole paranoid one, if a hacker had access to your internal LAN and had the ability to turn on your PC whenever he or she wanted to perform whatever nefarious acts he or she wanted. Unless you have a specific need to have it on, go into your computer BIOS when booting and disable that wicked feature. Depending on your BIOS, it may not even be an option.
Turn Off Allow Network Traffic To Wake Computer – Similar to WoL, your network adapter has the ability to listen to network traffic and can allow your computer to be woken up while asleep.
To shut this down, go into the Control Panel, look for your network adapter, right-click it and select Properties. Under the Power Management tab, uncheck that option if it is checked.
Turn Off UPnP – Turn off Universal Plug and Play in your router. Universal Plug and Play allows programs within your network to automatically punch holes in your router. What? Us paranoids can’t allow this to happen! Imagine a virus on your network having free reign to open ports on your router to allow even more bad guys in. For most of us, having this feature off will not affect anything we do from day to day. For others, you may need to occasionally go into your router and manually open ports for programs or system that require them to be open–like game consoles, for instance. You can turn off UPnP in your router.
Uninstall Java and Adobe Reader – With Windows doing a better job securing the OS, hackers are seeking softer targets like Java and Adobe Reader, both of which seem to have some type of zero-day exploits in the past. Most of us have these programs just sitting on our system, never being used and never being updated to the latest versions. If you simply must have them, be sure to update them frequently.
Scan Your Ports – The Gibson Research Corporation (GRC) has been providing a free online privacy and security tool to scan your router for open ports for over ten years. This tool is called Shields Up and you can find it here. The UPnP Exposure test will check to see if your router is open to a new router exploit that gives hackers the ability to access and control your router.
If all is well with the GRC test, you will see the above image.
Run Your Browser In Privacy Mode – Private Browsing (which may be called something else depending on which browser you’re running) allows you to surf without the fear of a history being saved, and temp images, videos, files and cookies being stored on your computer.
In Firefox and IE, this is enabled by hitting CTRL+Shift+P.
In Google Chrome hit CTRL+Shift+N for Incognito mode.
Do The Basic Computer Security Measures – Of course, you should also make sure you are running a current antivirus–if your free antivirus from Symantec or Mcafee has expired, uninstall it and get another. If you do not have one, Windows Defender is free.
Note: Windows 10 users should already have Windows Defender installed by default.
In addition, make sure your WiFi is encrypted in your router settings using WPA-2 so the whole neighborhood isn’t using your bandwidth. Make sure you have Windows automatic updates turned on. Make sure your Windows firewall is also enabled.
Online privacy and security should always remain at the forefront of our minds. While we should embrace these technologies, we must insist the manufacturers include a method for keeping themselves transparent. Most of these companies provide thorough privacy policies and provide tools to help you opt out of certain features.