September 2014

Cloud Storage

cloudstorageThe most common place today’s computer users store their documents and pictures is on their hard drives. But did you know that you can back up your files somewhere so that if your computer ever dies, you’ll be able to access a second copy of them? In recent years, online cloud storage has become incredibly important The Cloud, as many people call it, is not actually a cloud. The Cloud is a “massive, physical collection of interconnected information technology servers that are easily accessible by a user through a network”, as State Tech Magazine defines it. There are servers located all over the world, around 50 million of them, kept in massive rooms with special air conditioning and recirculation technology to prevent overheating.

So, how do you access these servers and take advantage of them? Different companies own different servers, and offer cloud storage services that utilize these servers. These companies have different plans you can sign up for, with different storage sizes. If you’re planning to store pictures, you’ll probably want a larger storage plan than if you’re just storing documents. Here’s a list of well-known cloud storage websites and how much space you can get:

  • OneDrive (by Microsoft): 15GB free, 100GB for $1.99/month, 200GB for $2.99/month
  • Dropbox: 2GB free, 1TB (1,00GB) for $9.99/month
  • Google Drive (free with Gmail account): 15GB free, 100GB for $1.99/month, 1TB for $9.99/month, 10TB for $99.99/month, 20TB for $199.99/month, 30TB for $299.99/month
  • Carbonite: Unlimited storage for $59.99/year, $99.99/year for additional external hard drive and mirror backup
  • Amazon Cloud Drive: 5GB free, 20GB for $10/year, 50GB for $25/year, 100GB for $50/year, 200GB for $100/year, 500GB for $250/year, 1TB for $500/year
  • Box (personal): 10GB for free, 100GB for $10/month

There are many other cloud storage providers out there, but these are among the most well known. Cloud storage can be a great way to sync all your documents and pictures across multiple devices, as many of these services have app versions that work on tablet and phones. It makes transferring documents from one device to another quite easy, as you can log in online from any device and download the files you need.

And if you own a business, cloud storage is something you can also take advantage of in a corporate setting. Many of these storage providers offer business plans as well. Your employees can store important documents online, so multiple people can access them easily and without fear of losing them on a personal machine. Cloud backups are ideal for anyone who wants to safeguard against accidents. Even if you have an external hard drive, having online copies of your documents adds another layer of protection, and provides a peace of mind.

Internet Safety

internetsecurityIn continuing with last week’s safety theme, this week we’re going to discuss internet safety. There are a lot of things you can do when browsing online to make sure your information stays safe. So if you’re ready to put in some effort in maintaining a secure online presence, read on.

Part 1: Passwords

Passwords. The most basic form of security anyone online uses. They can be annoying to remember and difficult to keep track of, but are essential to keeping accounts safe. Here are some tips regarding password generation and usage:

  1. Pick a strong password. Really. Don’t use family members’ names or birthdays. Never use “password” or “123456” or any variation thereof. The best passwords mix upper and lowercase letters as well as symbols and numbers, and are usually at least 8 characters long. If possible, don’t capitalize the first letter and don’t end with a 1 or 2, as these are the most common patterns for people who try to create “difficult” passwords. Substitute numbers for letters and don’t be afraid to misspell words – that makes it harder for password hacking software to crack. If you can’t or don’t want to come up with a password, you can use a password generator.
  2. Pick a different password for each account, and get in the habit of changing them at least once a year. Don’t use the same password again once you’ve changed it for at least a year.
  3. Use a password manager. It’s hard to keep track of all your hard created passwords, so why not use a password manager to help out? LastPass, KeePass and 1Password are all equally great programs.
  4. Use two step authentication when possible. This requires a second step when logging into accounts on another computer, such as inputting a special code received from a code list or text message that the site sends you. Many websites, such as Facebook, Google and Dropbox all support two step authentication, so you might want to consider that in your password regimen.
  5. Don’t answer password hints honestly. A hacker could easily guess answers to your security questions and then gain access to your account. Select an answer that is entirely different than the question is asking, but something that you will remember.
  6. Delete and disconnect from services you don’t use. You can still get hacked even if you don’t use an app or web service anymore. Also another good reason to change passwords for each account you create online, so that if one gets hacked, the others aren’t at risk.

Part Two: Browser Security

So now you have your ironclad passwords. But what about all the other stuff you do online? Browsing sites and accumulating cookies always invites potential danger in, but here are some things you can do to help minimize that risk:

  1. Use HTTPS Everywhere. As mentioned in last week’s encryption advice, this extension for many browsers ensures that you are browsing a secure connection, which is especially important when entering in personal information or doing online shopping.
  2. Log out of your accounts. Especially on public computers. It might be tempting to leave them open if you’re coming back, but anyone who could steal your computer would then have access to your accounts.
  3. Use extensions that prevent data collection. Adblock Plus, Ghostery and Do Not Track Plus all prevent websites from collecting information from your browsing data. They’re also pretty nice at blocking annoying ads on websites.
  4. Consider the Tor browser or VPN services for a truly anonymous and/or secure browsing experience.

Part Three: Network Security

With you browser and passwords set, there’s one more source you need to lock down: your home network or public wi-fi.

  1. Change your router’s security settings. Change the password and name of your router, because the default ones are relatively easy to hack.
  2. Be wary of downloads, as many malware threats reside in unsuspecting files and software. If you “need” software to run something on a website, make sure to look at its credentials before downloading. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Turn off home sharing when not at home. Sharing documents and files is convenient for letting your household access important things on your computer, but be sure to turn it off whenever you leave your abode.
  4. Don’t connect to wi-fi unless you need it. You want to monitor your usage over public wi-fi, so make sure it isn’t accidentally on and inviting in hackers.

So those are some tips for working online, whether you are at home or on the go. It’s never too late to start protecting your online presence. Even if you start by following one or two of these tips, you will be more proactive than many people out there!

Encryption

passwordIn an age bursting with technological advances, security seems to be an ever increasing issue. The recent media spotlights on the NSA in particular has many people asking, “How can I secure my personal digital information?” One of the best ways to help secure your privacy is encryption. Encryption is great because it covers a range of devices and services through which personal information might be shared or stored. According to the Surveillance Self-Defense Project, “Encryption is a technique that uses math to transform information in a way that makes it unreadable to anyone except those with special knowledge, usually referred to as a ‘key’…  If encryption is used properly, the information should only be readable by you and people that receive the key from you. Encryption provides a very strong technical protection against many kinds of threats — and this protection is often easy to obtain.”

So where to start? How about with the device most of us interact with the most – our smartphones. A good first step to upping security on phones is to use a passcode. When enabling a passcode on an iPhone, Apple’s data protection software is activated. That’s why if you use the wrong passcode too many times on an iPhone, you’ll get locked out of the phone and eventually might wipe it clean if you don’t stop. For Android phones, passcodes can be set up, but actual encryption takes a bit longer. In the security settings of the phone, simply tap “encrypt phone” and you’ll be taken through the process. Please note that with Androids, the process takes about an hour, and there’s no decrypting your phone unless you want to reset it to original factory settings. Windows Phones only enable encryption on business phones or those that have subscribed to Microsoft 365, unfortunately. But a passcode would be an added layer of security even if encryption is unattainable.

Now how about your web browser? The internet has a lot of opportunities for potential security threats to get through to your browser. So how can you protect your information on the web? HTTPS is the standard encryption for websites, and is found in the browser bar, usually with a little lock icon. However, not all websites can send and receive information over an HTTPS connection. A great fix to this is the HTTPS Everywhere extension, developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, which makes browsing more secure. It is current available for Chrome, Opera and Firefox.  Tor, of course, is an anonymous browser that routes your web traffic through different relays, so no one can trace your internet exploits back to you. It’s not encryption, but it does offer a strong sense of privacy. Finally, if you want a completely encrypted connection, try using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

To encrypt everything else, you’ll need to encrypt your entire laptop. There are many programs out there for encrypting laptops, but Windows and Mac OS have native encryption programs. Windows has Windows BitLocker, which once encrypted, encrypts all new documents added to your hard drive. Simple search for BitLocker on your laptop or go to Settings -> BitLocker Drive Encryption, and follow the steps. Note: make a recovery key (and write it down!) when first enabling BitLocker, or you could permanently lose access to your files. For Macs users, you can use File Vault 2, which comes already installed. Simply search for it and follow the instructions.

Encryption might require a few extra steps and passwords, but in the end it’s up to you how far you want to go in protecting your information. If you’re willing to make the trade off, encryption is the way to go for cyber protection.