I Ramped Up My Internet Security

February 1, 2016

Some people make dieting resolutions in the New Year. I make security and privacy resolutions, because those are the things that keep me up at night. After all, as a journalist, it’s important for me to give my sources assurances that I will keep their communications confidential. And in today’s world, that is an ever-more-difficult task.

Everyone—journalists or not—faces an increasing array of attacks on our security and privacy. Even if you’re not the United States’ intelligence chief, whose email was recently hacked, it’s smart to up your game. So this year, I thought I’d share my resolutions.

Software updates

It’s not sexy, but at the top of my list is updating my software to the latest versions. Nothing else matters—not fancy encryption or strong passwords—if you’re using software that contains gaping holes that any criminal or spy can penetrate.

And I hate to break it to you, but all your software is as holey as Swiss cheese. The software updates you receive are just patches for the holes that have been discovered so far. More holes will be discovered later. What’s more, updates are basically red alerts to hackers, pointing them to the holes.

So I’ve just updated my phone and computer operating systems, as well as all my Web browsers, software, and phone apps.

Ditching old buggy software

Next up is ditching old, unused, or poorly maintained software. Using software is a commitment. If you don’t update it, you are wearing a “hack me” sign on your forehead. So if there are programs or apps that you don’t use, delete them.

This year, I decided to ditch my instant messaging client Adium. I was using it to enable encrypted chats. But like many cash-strapped open source projects, it is rarely updated and has been linked to many security vulnerabilities.

Instead, I switched to Tor Messenger, an encrypted messaging program that is run by the Tor Project, a non-profit that makes the anonymous Web browser that I already use. By the sad standards of underfunded open source security tools, Tor is relatively well-financed and so I have some hope that its tools will continue to be updated.

Tor Messenger links up with my existing Gmail and Jabber chat accounts, and is encrypted and anonymous by default.

For even more privacy, I also signed up for Ricochet, an encrypted chat program that runs on the so-called Dark Web. One downside: You can only chat with other Ricochet users. So far, I have all of two buddies on it.

 

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