WikiLeaks, the nonprofit whistleblower organization that has published secretive government information to its website (and shared the information with world-renowned newspapers like the New York Times), has dominated the news cycle lately, and it has got corporations, governmental organizations worldwide, and even regular people like you and me scrambling to protect sensitive data from public view.
If you want to avoid potentially embarrassing leaks — and the fates of such world leaders as President Nicolas Sarkozy of France (described as thin-skinned), Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy (feckless and vain), German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (who was outed as “powerless”), or Libya’s President Muammar Gaddafi (who never travels without his “voluptuous” nurse) — follow these tips:
Really, you should be the only user allowed to access extremely secure-level information. How low-level intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was able to gain access to war logs and diplomatic cables and allegedly supply them to WikiLeaks is beyond anyone’s comprehension, but the general consensus seems to be that he just shouldn’t have in the first place. Restricting access is really the first, non-negotiable step in protecting yourself from mass info leakage. Password-protect your computer: every time someone wants to use it, they should have to enter a password (you can often set a time on your screensaver and require log-in everytime it comes up.) Also, physically restrict access by locking it up when you’re away. (Get a cheap laptop lock for this.) Lastly, set up an alarm-type system like iAlertU that sounds with slight movements of the mouse or keyboard (or takes pictures of the intruder, too!)
Spyware pretty much does what it sounds like. It “spies” on you and can record any sensitive online transactions you make. Some spyware have traditional uninstallers that you can remove normally. Otherwise, use antivirus software like Norton, MalwareBytes or AVG to identify, isolate, and delete the malicious program. (If the spyware is getting in the way of your eliminating it, boot up your computer in “safe mode.” ) Reconnect to your internet and see if any of the malware/spyware has wriggled its way into the “trusted sites” list in your internet preferences. Then “reset” your browser and homepage. Voila! The worst is over.
Erase Your Phones
Your prized Blackberry or iPhone has suddenly become obsolete (we know, you thought it would never happen) and now you want to sell it. Potential problem? You might be selling your personal data along with it. If you’re near a computer, you should be able to restore your iPhone as “new,” effectively getting the job done. Otherwise, the Settings -> General ->Reset – >Erase All Content method (on the 2.0 software version) should do the trick. For the Blackberry, make sure to go to Security Options ->Wipe Handheld, then type in “blackberry” to confirm the wipe. There. You’re one step closer to avoiding WikiLeaks-level damage to your self.
Don’t want your employer (or, um, your mother) to know what you’ve been looking at online? Try using https instead of http before visiting certain sites (like most webmail sites). Https stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure and encrypts your online data (it’s used for most online transactions). You can also use a script that automatically redirects http to https. Don’t forget to erase your history and clear caches when possible. For added privacy, use an internet proxy (these camouflage your IP address, rendering your actual machine anonymous.) Also beware “hostile” proxy servers, which are installed inside a user’s computer without their consent and track and log web usage.
Review Sensitive Information
It’s simple, but necessary: One of the best ways to not get WikiLeaked on is to double-check your private history and look for weak spots. Check your medical/drug prescription history, credit reports, bank reports, rent history reports, etc. for glaring discrepancies. (For a list of organizations and numbers to call, click on this CBS MoneyWatch Report).
Use a Secure Wireless Network
Secure your personal wireless network by choosing a long, difficult password for access to your wireless router. (You don’t want just anyone to get access to your wireless — especially if someone is remotely conducting illegal activity). Disable remote wireless login and administrating capabilities. And lastly, but most importantly, use WPA (wifi protected access) to scramble your network and prevent hackers from snooping around. And how can you tell if an individual site is secure? It should begin with https (as described above) or have a little lock box at the end of the address.
If you want to keep files out of the hands of intruders or even just curious wandering eyes, you’ll want to use encryption. Using some sort of algorithm, it turns plain text into code, which then needs a key to decrypt it.
It’s a trick the famed editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks himself, Julian Assange, uses when sending data to his hacker compatriots: his “poison pill”, which he has threatened to release if he or WikiLeaks is harmed, has a 256-bit encryption key. In other words? It’s near impossible to decode. You too can beat the hackers at their own game. TrueCrypt is one of many encryption tools available, but it’s perhaps most useful for newbies that still want advanced security. (Also, it’s free to download and available for Mac, Windows, and Linux users.) Once you’ve installed the program, create a “volume” for your encrypted files, choose an algorithm, and pick a long, difficult password to unlock it with. Then press “format” to actually code the data. If you’re feeling extra secretive, you can choose to also encrypt entire drives of data, all at once.