So I recently became a lot more security conscious and went on an encryption rampage to try to lessen my exposure to unwanted intrusions online. As such, I implemented a few solutions for protecting my data; A password manager, encrypting my personal data, and encrypting my network traffic.
A note before I describe my solutions – Please, please, please backup your passwords and data before attempting to add encryption (or just if you have not created a backup in a while). Not backing up your data is like not having insurance, or a smoke detector, or a fire extinguisher because, meh, it probably won’t happen to me. Don’t be that guy.
Another note; I am not affiliated with any of these companies and I am not compensated in any way for praising their products. I am usually actually very cynical about commercial products, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due.
After doing (a ton) of research, I finally decided that I would trust my passwords to the password manager LastPass. What is a password manager and why do I need one? Well, I will answer those questions in reverse. First, why do I need a password manager? The key to strong passwords that are difficult to crack is that they need to be long, contain a lot of characters, contain a variety of characters, and not be reused between sites. That last requirement is key. One of the biggest vulnerabilities that you face as a consumer right now is that hackers will break into the database of one company that you have an account with, and then they will take that password and try it all over the web to see if they can access your other accounts. The worst part is that the company that got hacked often wont even tell you that it happened. This means that a hacker can get your credentials from some random innocuous social media site, and then turn around and use them to take all of your money out of your bank account. To fix this, you have different passwords for each of your accounts – but this quickly becomes difficult to manage. This is where a password manager comes in. Using one REALLY strong password, you log into your password manager, and then it can auto-fill your passwords for you for all of your accounts. This way, you can have super complicated passwords for all of them, and you don’t have to remember any of them. Plus, good password managers (like LastPass) will also help you generate super tough passwords to crack. The best part is, your LastPass account is encrypted client-side so even the CEO of LastPass couldn’t steal your passwords if they wanted to. There is one security vulnerability with a password manager, that all your passwords are now in one place, but with a strong password and account encryption it will be (almost) impossible for a hacker to crack.
I’ve used Google Drive forever because I like the idea of my files being available anywhere, anytime I need them. But what I didn’t like is that my files were being sent over the web unencrypted, and stored unencrypted so that any employee at Google with high enough access rights could snoop on them. Plus, it is standard operating procedure at Google to snoop over all of your data to market to you and do who knows what else with. That’s where Sync.com comes in. Sync is a cloud drive like Google Drive, One Drive, or any of the other major brands out there, but like LastPass it too uses client-side encryption. This means that before the bits even leave your computer they are encrypted, and they are not decrypted again until they are back on your computer. I love this solution because you can take your files anywhere, even your phone, and not risk them being compromised en route.
Tutanota is to Gmail what Sync is to Google Drive – an encrypted email client. While it is not perfect since you still need to send and receive emails from less secure users, it is at least a step in the right direction and will help you protect your communications without needing to send enigma encoded notes wrapped around cigars via pony express. Similar to Sync, Tutanota flips the default from the company having access to your data to only you having access to your data.
The last solution I added to secure my data is to start using a VPN by default for all of my internet traffic. Even though I don’t do anything nefarious, I do not like the idea that a government, corporation, or some random guy on the internet can see everything I do. It is like allowing a stranger to install a webcam in your living room; sure there’s probably no harm in it, but it’s more than a little creepy at best. The secret to a VPN is that it encrypts your traffic (starting to see a theme here) and then sends it to a server. There, your traffic is mixed with thousands of other users’ traffic, making it difficult to trace a request back to the requester. A bonus is that you can choose which server your requests go to. Do you want to see what it looks like to browse the internet in France? No problem, just choose a VPN server in France.
Client-side encryption is your friend it should be much more sought after than it currently is.There are many other things you can do to improve your online security hygiene, but just installing a couple of programs will give you a good head start. Even better, some of these programs are free or there are similar free programs available.
So now you have no excuse not to be safe online!