February 10, 2017

Online Security and Privacy

When talking tech, security and privacy are very important points to discuss. Passwords, EULA, permissions, cookies; they’re terms we’ve all heard, but what do they mean to you? What do they mean to your faculty, students, physicians, and other patrons?

Many of us blindly accept the EULA (for apps and programs) or terms of service (for websites and services) and the permissions needed for apps. These agreements can be intrusive, a lot more intrusive than you may think. What can we do to ensure our security and privacy? What would we do if we couldn’t use Snapchat or Uber because we didn’t like the permissions needed to make those apps work? Password creation has more requirements than in years past; most sites now require combinations of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, special characters, and who knows what else to have a password deemed to be strong or secure.

Are these requirements really necessary to make your passwords strong? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. We all know not to share our passwords or other sensitive information on social media such as Twitter, but for those of you who may be less privacy- or security-aware, we’ve listed several steps you can take to strengthen your passwords and keep your information secure.
  1.  Actually read the terms of service or EULA and agree to them before clicking that little box and submitting.
  2. Know what permissions apps require. If you don’t like the permissions, choose not to share all of your information or don’t download the app.
  3. Look into do-not-track settings on your browser. You won’t get those amazing targeted ads that give you links to similar items that you recently viewed or bought, but that’s okay. For more information that’s specific to your device and browser, check out the All About Do Not Track website.
  4. Have a different password for each site. Honestly, this one’s hard. I have logins for so many sites and apps and ones for work and home. How can anyone manage so much information
  5. Answer: consider using a password manager. LastPass and 1Password are two of the more popular password managers but others exist. Password managers select random, long passwords for every site you create a login in for and synchronize them across your devices.
  6. So these password managers are on to something. Your passwords need to be random and long; think of them as phrases instead of words. John Oliver and Edward Snowden gave a couple of amazing examples in the video linked below.
  7. The answers to your security questions are just as important as your passwords, so you should use the same techniques for creating them. Guess what? You can lie; you don’t actually have to use your mom’s real maiden name or the street you grew up on. As long as you know what you listed as your answer, you’re good to go.
  8. Use a two-factor authentication process. Two Factor Auth (2FA) provides information on who does and does not use two-factor authentication and how to enable this method on sites or services that do. As a bonus, they also provide ways to contact organizations that do not support two-factor authentication.
  9. Last (on this list anyways), but not least, encrypt your information. Encrypt your computer’s hard disk, and encrypt calls and messages on your phone or tablet. In some cases, encryption is automatic; however, in others, you may be required to turn on encryption. The same is true for certain apps.
This list is by no means comprehensive. There are other ways that you can secure your information and there may be better ways to create strong passwords. Below are some videos on the topic of passwords and privacy that may shine more light on the topic and answer some questions that weren’t addressed in this post.

Edward Snowden on Passwords (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzGzB-yYKcc

#PrivacyProject (Silent Circle) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcjtEKNP05c

Lorrie Faith Cranor: What’s wrong with your pa$$w0rd? (TED Talks) - http://www.ted.com/talks/lorrie_faith_cranor_what_s_wrong_with_your_pa_w0rd?language=en

Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters. (TED Talks) - http://www.ted.com/talks/glenn_greenwald_why_privacy_matters

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