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Chapter 2. PRIVACY AT HOME
Like charity, privacy begins at home. The threats are almost too
Many privacy threats involve the
But computers are hardly the only places where your privacy is at risk Privacy annoyances abound thanks to your telephone (
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MY DATA, MYSELF
One Computer, Many Eyeballs
I keep sensitive files on my home desktop machine—my banking records, old love
One way is to use a password-protected logon so that only you can gain access to your desktop's...er, desktop. If you're sharing the computer, you'll need to set up multiple
To set up different identities in Windows XP,
If you want to be able to quickly switch between users without having to close all your documents and programs, make sure Fast User Switching is turned on. From the main User Accounts Window, select "Change the way users log on and off" and check the Use Fast User Switching box. Click the Apply Options button and close the User Accounts window.
annoyances 2-1. Sharing your computer with the entire family? Windows XP lets you create accounts for multiple usersmultiple users
Wait, you're not done yet. If you wander off while you're logged on to your PC,
To lock your computer, simply press the Windows Logo key (it looks like a tiny flag) and the letter L; Windows will display a blank desktop. Press the logo key and L again to get to a Welcome screen where you must log back in with a password. If your keyboard lacks a Windows key, you can force the logon screen to appear by clicking the Start button and selecting Log Off Switch User (or Log Off Administrator Switch User). When you log back in, your computer will be just as you left it.
To password protect your screensaver, open the Display control panel. (If you're using Control Panel's Categories view, you'll find it under Appearance and Themes.) Select the Screen Saver tab, select a screensaver, set the delay, and check the "On resume, display Welcome screen" box. Anyone attempting to slip onto your machine while you're away will have to cough up a password.
If you use Mac OS X, this process is even simpler (naturally). Click the System Preferences icon (it looks like a light switch) on the Mac's toolbar; under "System" select Accounts. To add a new account, click the plus symbol (+) below Login Options, and enter the
Remember, the security of either scheme depends entirely on how tough a password you pick. (For sage advice on creating a password, see the sidebar "Pick a Peck of Passwords.")
Foil Hard Disk
With Mac OS X, file sharing is turned off by default. To make sure, open System Preferences from the toolbar, click the Sharing icon (it's under Internet & Network), and select Services. If Personal File Sharing is selected, you can
TEN ESSENTIAL PRIVACY PRACTICES
Want more control over your personal privacy? If you ignore all of the other advice in this book but follow these 10 steps, you'll gain more privacy than 90 percent of your fellow Americans. (Of course, to get that last 9.99 percent, read the rest of the book!)
Be stingy with your data . In particular, don't share information like your Social Security Number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, or driver's license number with anyone who doesn't really need it. (And most folks really don't need it.) As a general rule, only a handful of government authorities and financial institutions legally require this kind of information.
Check your rep . At least once a year, order a credit report from the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion). Check it for errors and anything else that doesn't look right. Thanks to the recently passed Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, you can get a free report once a year. If someone's mucking with your credit or your reputation, this is where it will show up.
Write a blank check
. Don't put your home address, phone number, or driver's license number on your printed checks. If they're stolen, you may have handed the
Use a private mailbox . Getting a Post Office box or private mail drop is a little more hassle, but you won't have to worry about marketers having your home address or your Social Security checks being stolen by mailbox looters.
. Remove your name—or at least, your street address—from phonebooks, online directories, and search engines. The lack of an address makes you less attractive to marketers (and harder for stalkers, collection
Be smart about the Internet . It's a big bad World Wide Web out there, and no sane person goes online without some kind of protection. (For more on the tools you need, see Chapter 3.)
Opt out early and often . If a web site, email advertisement, or telemarketer asks if you'd like them to contact you again, just say no. If you really want their stuff, you'll know where to find them. When you sign up for a new site or service, ask the company to not share your personal information.
Control access to your PC
. You've got a lot of personal information on that little box, and it's nobody business but yours (unless, of course, you're
Avoid surveys , contests, and sweepstakes . These are cheap ways to suck personal information from you for a one-in-a-million shot at winning. "You may have already won"? Maybe—but you've definitely lost your privacy.
Know your rights
. U.S. privacy laws leave a lot to be desired, but some (like the Fair Credit Reporting Act) can be lifesavers in the right circumstances. Don't expect other people, companies, or agencies to defend your rights for you. (For more on key Federal
I've got seriously sensitive work materials I need to protect, so simply making files private ain't gonna cut it.
Encrypting your data folders can help. (Encryption is an
However, XP Pro shipped with relatively weak 40-bit encryption. (In general, the more bits used to generate the encryption key that scrambles your data, the harder it is to break. Researchers have broken 40-bit keys in about three hours using high-speed computers.) If you need to secure your files from crooks, hackers, or other serious threats, you'll want 128-bit encryption at a minimum, and that means turning to off-the-shelf encryption software for the PC and Mac, such as PGP Desktop Home ($69, http://www.pgp.com). PGP supports a wide range of different encryption
Mac OS X aficionados can
I don't want to make a second career out of securing my hard drive; I just have a few files that I want to keep private. Isn't there a simpler way?
There is. Windows lets you hide any file or even entire folders so they won't show up in My Computer or Windows Explorer.
First, store your sensitive files in a subfolder and pick a boring name for it (like "spreadsheets" or "work"). (You don't have to do this, but it will make your files harder to find and appear less interesting to snoops.) In Windows Explorer, right-click that new folder, and select Properties. In the Attributes section check the Hidden box, then click the Apply button, then OK. Then select Tools Folder Options and click the View tab. Scroll down to the item that reads Hidden Files and Folders and select the "Do not show option and click OK. Close Explorer and reopen it. Your folder will not be visible until you go back into your Folder Options menu and select "Show hidden files and folders" (see Figure 2-2).
You can do the same thing with individual files: Just right-click on the file, select Properties, check the Hidden box on the General tab, then click OK.
Remember, while this technique works
I used to be a bad person, but I've reformed. I've also deleted every file on my computer that could get me in trouble with the law, my spouse, or the Recording Industry Association of America. But I hear that deleted files never really go away. Is that true? How can I make sure the stuff that I deleted stays deleted?
When you click "delete," the files stay in your Recycle Bin until you empty it. Even then they can be restored fairly easily using file recovery software such as Executive Software's Undelete ($30, http://www.executivesoftware.com). That's because the data isn't actually deleted; Windows just lops off part of the filename so your hard drive's filing system can't locate it. Eventually, an application will overwrite the file with new data, but that could take months. Meanwhile, the data is accessible to anyone with decent computer forensics skills.
The cheapskate's way of purging files? Erase the files, empty the Recycle Bin, and defrag the hard disk. This can overwrite erased files, making their secrets unavailable to snoops. To run the defragger, select Start All Programs Accessories System Tools Disk Defragmenter. Then go do your laundry or crack open a good book, because its likely to take a while.
But to be sure the data is really gone, you'll need an electronic file shredder such as CyberScrub Privacy Suite ($50, http://www.cyberscrub.com) that can overwrite deleted files multiple times so that nobody—not even the spooks at the NSA—can recover them. WinGuides' Privacy Guardian 3.0 ($30, http://www.winguides.com) can also wipe your Recycle Bin and shred individual files so they'll never be seen again. Both products can also wipe out data lurking in temp files, document histories, and much more. Best of all, you can tell them to clean out your old stuff on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis, so you never have to think about it again.
To make deleted files unrecoverable on Mac OS X systems, just open the Trash Can, click Finder, and select Secure Empty Trash. But to evict any file
I am a backup fanatic—I've got Zip discs full of backup copies of every file that's ever been on my computer. But that means my Quicken data and personal correspondence are also on these discs. How do I keep somebody from stealing my financial
You can turn your PC into a digital Fort Knox but still get burned by an
WinBackUp ($50, http://www.liutilities.com/products/winbackup/) automates data backups, protects data using strong 256-bit encryption, and lets you assign passwords to backup data sets so only you can open them. If you're doing manual backups, you can also use PKWare's PKZIP ($29, http://www.pkware.com) or SecureZIP ($100) to compress and encrypt your data files, no matter where they reside. But PKZip encyption is fairly weak—you can find free software on the Net that helps you crack it—so SecureZIP is a better call for
The next issue: where do you plan to store the backups? A locked
A safe deposit box at your bank is a reasonable storage option, though it can be a bit of a hassle going to the bank every time you make a backup set. (See Chapter 5, "Safety in Boxes?") Another option is online backup.
ISPs such as Earthlink (http://www.earthlink.net) and Microsoft Network (http://www.msn.com) and web services such as Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) offer some online storage space with each account—enough for quick-and-dirty backups of data files. But you'll have to copy your files manually, and the data isn't protected as it
Connected's DataProtector service (http://connected.com/solution/DataProtector.asp) offers backup plans
PICK A PECK OF PASSWORDS
For better or
You don't need to create unique passwords for every web site, file, or account, just the important ones—your online bank account, sensitive files on your hard drive, and so on. For less
The obvious advice? Don't be obvious. Avoid using your name, your dog's name, your Social Security Number, birthdates, or any other information that others can readily obtain about you. Avoid words normally found in the dictionary, and use a mix of letters and
If you can, choose a pass phrase—such as "I used to be disgusted but now I try to be amused"—instead of a single word. But remember this could backfire if you choose something others might be able to guess (like if a snoop knows you're a longtime Elvis Costello fan).
Write your passwords down and keep them in a secure place away from your computer (not in your wallet or purse, either). Better yet, use a free program like Any Password (http://www.anypassword.com), which can generate random passwords and store them in an encrypted file so you don't have to remember them (though you will need to remember the password to get your Any Password files).
IS YOUR TV SPYING ON YOU?
While you sit in that
Around 3 million people use TiVo to pre-record their favorite programs and fast-forward through commercials. But every time you record something, that information is sent back to TiVo. By default, TiVo collects only anonymous viewing information, which it shares with advertisers and third parties such as Nielsen Media Research. In other words, TiVo might know that 987 people in your ZIP code recorded The Quilting Channel, but it wouldn't know that you were one of them.
However, if you buy something through TiVo service, such as a pay-per-view event, or you request information from one of its advertising partners, TiVo knows who you are and what you bought, and so do its
In 2002, a group of
If you don't want TiVo to know who you are, don't buy anything from them, or use their Online Schedule features selectively. You can tell TiVo to stop tracking your anonymous viewing habits. Call them at (877)367-8486, or send a letter to:
But that's just TiVo. Many cable and satellite companies offer their own brand of DVR, and their privacy polices may vary. (And, of course, if you record programs using a Windows Media Center PC or other PC-based DVR, then anyone can find out what you've recorded simply by looking on your PC.) Examine their privacy policies to find out what information they collect and what they do with it—and stay
There are only a handful of Office files that are really for my eyes only—I don't want to invest a lot of time and money in encryption products.
Microsoft Office 2000, 2002, and 2003 let you password protect—and with 2002 and 2003, heavily encrypt—individual files (see Figure 2-3). In Microsoft Word 2002 and 2003, open the file you want to protect, select File Save As, click the Tools menu in the upper right corner of the dialog box, select Security Options, and then enter passwords in the "Password to open and "Password to modify" boxes, and click OK. (In Word 2000, select Tools General Options.) For corporate-level security thats hard to hack, in Word 2002 and 2003, click the Advanced button in the Security tab and select a more robust encryption scheme (such as 128-bit Microsoft Enhanced RSA), and click OK twice. In Excel, the commands are slightly different (File Save As Tools General Options) but the effect is the same.
Tired of remembering passwords? American Power Conversion's Biometric Password Manager can put dozens of logon
I've got an old computer that's too slow to be used as anything but a doorstop. I was thinking of donating it to a local charity and getting the tax
Old hard drives, even ones its
If you don't need any of the data on the system, the best thing to do is reformat the entire hard drive (and, if you want to be truly nice, reinstall a clean copy of the original operating system). If you've still got the CDs that came with the machine, you should be able to find instructions on how to do this. If you've lost the CDs (or the system is so old it didn't come with CDs), you can manually reformat the disc. Here are the two basic ways to
First, create a startup disk. After inserting a floppy disk into the drive, launch Windows Explorer and right click on the A: drive and select Format. In the next dialog box, check the "Create an MS-DOS startup disk" box and click the Start button. When Windows warns you that all data on the disk will be overwritten, click OK. Click OK when the "Format complete" window appears, then click the Close button.
A NOTE ABOUT NOTEBOOKS
Notebook PCs present an even bigger privacy challenge than desktops, since nogoodniks can simply walk off with them, taking your personal correspondence, address book, financial information, and more in the process. So you need to be careful (approaching
Use an old bag
. Nothing screams "steal me!" quite like a fancy leather laptop bag in an airport. When you travel, put your machine inside something less obvious, like a briefcase (the more worn out, the better) or a
Take a number . Write down your machine's serial number and stick it a safe place (i.e., not in a Word doc on your laptop). This will come in handy later if the machine is recovered.
Let a password be your watchword
. This almost goes without saying, but the logon
Encrypt your data . Even if a thief manages to circumvent your logon security, he or she won't be able to get at your data if it's encrypted and password protected. (See "No Vault Insurance").
Tell it to phone home
. Software such as CyberAngel Security ($60 annually, http://www.sentryinc.com) and Computrace Personal ($99 for three
. Make thieves think twice by adding an alarm to your notebook. The Targus PA480U DEFCOM MDP ($100, http://www.targus.com) plugs into your laptop's PC card slot and emits an 110db shriek if anyone tampers with or
Lock it down
. Even when you're not on the road, your notebook is at risk from burglars or light-fingered
Second, use that startup disk to format the drive. With the floppy still inside the machine, restart Windows. It should boot up to a DOS prompt. At the
format c: /s
If you get a "command not found" error, you may need to manually copy the ancient DOS program Format.com to the floppy. You should be able to find it in the \Windows\System32 folder.
If your drive is split into other logical partitions ( D: , E: , and so on), you'll need to follow the same steps, but substituting the appropriate drive letter for C: and leaving off the /s switch (since those drives won't contain system files).
However, even a reformat isn't entirely bulletproof. If your old data is truly sensitive (e.g., secret plans for a missile defense system, Britney Spears' unlisted home number), you may want to wipe the disk first. One free alternative is Darik's Boot and Nuke, a program you can download at http://dban.
If that's too
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