The art of war has evolved dramatically with the advent of contemporary technologies. One thing about war, however, hasn’t changed. To win a war, it’s still essential to keep the true strength of your forces and the extent of your arsenal hidden from your opponent. The most important military secrets are only disclosed to the select few who can be trusted to carry out the mission.
For this reason, the US government can’t divulge complete information about its tools and tactics for the national defense to the people it is sworn to serve. So there must be at least some instances when weapons of war have been developed and deployed without the knowledge of the American populace (or the rest of the world).
But what if the opponent of the military-industrial complex, having acquired unwarranted influence, became its own people? What fantastic secrets of kinetic, psychological, biological, and energetic warfare might then be hidden well below the surface of public knowledge?
At least some aspects of the existence and operational parameters of the following 10 weapons have made their way into general awareness. Yet their development begs the question: What other tools of death and destruction might be lurking in the shadows, utterly obscured from the public eye?
10 Directed Energy Weapons
Directed Energy: The Time for Laser Weapon Systems has Come
The Greek mathematician Archimedes may have made history over 2,000 years ago as the first person to ever use a directed energy weapon. According to a mysterious legend, during the Roman invasion of Syracuse, Archimedes rapidly constructed a hexagonal mirror when the Roman admiral Marcellus moved his ships out of the range of bowshot.
Archimedes was apparently able to capture the energy of the Sun and reflect it onto the ships, setting them ablaze and causing them to sink within minutes. MIT students were able to recreate this effect in 2005 but noted that their mirror was only capable of effectively burning a stationary target.
Though scientific knowledge has advanced a great deal since the days of Archimedes, the underlying theoretical principles of directed energy weapon (DEW) technology remain the same. A DEW inflicts damage from a distance by firing an intensely concentrated beam of energy toward a target.
Different types of DEWs fire different types of energy, but the most popularized form of directed energy weapon in use today is the high energy laser (HEL). These DEWs are just like the lasers seen in science fiction movies. They fire a soundless beam of energy, invisible at certain frequencies, that can incinerate a target from hundreds of miles away.
HELs have been developed by contractors like Lockheed Martin for use in missile defense and space war, but some believe that these weapons might have been designed with much more sinister purposes in mind.
During the Thomas Fire that ravaged California in December 2017, many witnesses and researchers noted property damage that seemingly defied every preconceived notion of how a wildfire should behave. Though wildfires use foliage to spread, entire blocks of houses burned to the ground while the surrounding trees remained untouched.
Though no official explanation of this anomalous phenomenon is forthcoming, multiple witnesses across California recorded video of beams of light coming down from the sky as the blaze spread across the state. Given the fact that HELs are commonly mounted on the nose cones of planes, some have concluded that the mayhem wreaked by the Thomas Fire was boosted with directed energy weaponry.
9 Long Range Acoustic Devices
USA: Sound cannon blasts curfew defiant protesters in Ferguson
A new type of crowd control weapon came to the fore during the Ferguson, Missouri, protests of 2014. As an active demonstration of the newfound capabilities of an increasingly militarized American police state, countermeasures employed by the Ferguson Police Department to quell civil unrest included the use of LRAD sound cannons.
Capable of projecting voice commands over a distance of 5.5 miles (9 kilometers), a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) inflicts grievous bodily pain upon anyone within 330 feet (100 meters) of its sound path. LRAD manufacturers are careful to call their products “devices” rather than “weapons” for public relations reasons, but anyone who has endured the effects of an LRAD is well aware of the difference between the truth and the spin.
Just ask the US diplomats stationed in Cuba who recently started losing their hearing. Soon after the detente between the United States and Cuba that transpired in 2015, diplomats deployed to the newly reopened US embassy on this Caribbean island nation started reporting a sudden and permanent loss of hearing.
US investigators concluded that the diplomats had been hit with an advanced and unnamed acoustic device that doesn’t make any audible sound but causes irreparable damage to the ears and brain of anyone in its path. This incident was considered so serious that the United States expelled two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington.
However, the exact nature of this LRAD-like device and the identity of the agents responsible for its use on American officials are still unknown. If a sonic weapon was indeed used on US diplomats in Cuba, this would be an unprecedented incident in the history of international relations.
8 Low-Frequency Microwave Mind Control
Microwaves suspected in attacks on US diplomats in Cuba and China
The apparent sonic attacks on the US embassy in Cuba rekindled decades-old fears about a different kind of secret weapon. In 1965, at the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon discovered that the Soviets were blasting the US embassy in Moscow with extremely low-frequency (ELF) microwave radiation.
While far too weak to cook anything, it was determined that the so-called Soviet Signal carried the possibility of affecting the health or altering the behavior of the embassy staff. Instead of doing anything to stop it, the Pentagon decided to study the potential effects of the signal and attempt to mimic them back home.
DARPA, then a freshly-minted branch of the Department of Defense, subsequently founded an initiative called Project Pandora and began researching the effects of ELF microwave radiation on primate subjects. Though the results were inconclusive, project leader Richard Cesaro remained convinced until Pandora’s disbanding in 1969 that ELF radiation posed a serious threat to the national security of the United States.
The Pentagon never figured out what the Soviets were up to at the American embassy and opted to solve the situation by wrapping the embassy in a building’s equivalent of a tinfoil hat: An aluminum screen was erected to surround the perimeter of the complex.
Though DARPA may have closed the case on ELF radiation in 1969, studies have since indicated that low-frequency microwave and radio waves may indeed have a deleterious effect on the human body. It’s even been demonstrated that the signals emitted and received from cell phones have an effect on the functioning of the mind that frequently shows itself in the disruption of natural sleep cycles.
Today’s world is absolutely saturated by invisible signals that keep us connected and informed. But how much do we truly know about this all-pervasive radiation and how it might be affecting our health and even our thoughts?
7 Heart Attack Guns
SYND 7 9 75 CIA DIRECTOR WILLIAM COLBY BEFORE SENATE COMMITTEE
In the wake of the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, Democratic Senator Frank Church led a committee dedicated to getting to the bottom of any actions perpetrated by the CIA that may have violated the charter of this secretive intelligence agency. It was believed that the CIA had accrued undue unilateral power under the pretext of the Cold War, and the Church Committee was assembled to expose this nefarious plot to the American people.
Though history shows us that the attempts of the Church Committee to curb the totalitarian zeal of the CIA were all but ineffective in the long run, a few interesting findings were uncovered during the course of this 1975 investigation. One such discovery was the so-called “Heart Attack Gun,” a modified pistol that was capable of delivering a nearly undetectable but absolutely lethal dose of shellfish toxin into the body of a distant target.
The darts fired by this soundless gun would theoretically leave a pinprick no larger than a mosquito bite and dissolve almost instantly into the tissues of the body after delivering a payload so poisonous that the target would be almost guaranteed to have a heart attack within moments. It’s unknown whether or not the “Heart Attack Gun” was ever used, but for all we know, it could still actively be in use today.
6 Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munitions
Explosively Formed Penetrators | Combat Tech
In Arthur C. Clarke’s book Earthlight, the legendary science fiction author of the 20th century conceives of a futuristic weapon that uses electromagnetism to propel a jet of molten metal miles into space, spearing and destroying an attacking battleship. This type of armor-piercing weapon isn’t entirely unheard of. Since World War II, various arms manufacturers have supplied combatants with tools of war called self-forging penetrators (SFPs).
Making use of a chemical explosion and a metal liner, SFPs propel themselves at an armored vehicle and then change their shape to penetrate the target. However, conventional SFPs are inefficient and hard to use, giving rise to the demand for a more effective armor penetration weapon.
DARPA has developed a specialized projectile to fit this niche called the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM). Using electromagnetism to form and direct a sustained jet of molten metal at an armored target, MAHEM is much more adaptable than a conventional SFP and closely resembles the fictional weapon featured in Earthlight.
Beyond these basic details, not much is known about this secretive military project. However, China’s Nanjing University of Science and Technology has apparently reverse engineered MAHEM for its own purposes.
As with many other aspects of the shadowy war for global supremacy currently being waged between the superpowers of the East and West, the full details surrounding the development and deployment of this fearsome weapon may never fully filter their way into the public awareness.
5 Biological Weaponry
Between 1949 and 1969, the United States military tested biological weapons on its own people without their knowledge or consent. One such experiment occurred in 1950 when a US Navy ship sprayed billions of tiny microbes into the atmosphere over San Francisco, causing a massive upsurge in illness and potentially killing one resident.
Another took place in the subway system under New York City in 1966 when researchers dropped light bulbs filled with bacteria onto the tracks to test how far the motion of a train would carry these potentially deadly pathogens. Still other experiments consisted of engulfing entire cities in a cloud of zinc cadmium sulfide under the pretext of providing a smoke screen to hide the population in the event of the outbreak of nuclear war.
The military tells us that all this was done to learn how to better protect us from foreign adversaries, but many wonder whether the benefits of such reckless experimentation truly outweigh the costs.
However, dangerous pathogens released into the atmosphere might be the least of the biological threats to which the American people have been exposed by their government. In 2016, DNI director James Clapper expressed his concerns that gene editing technology might become a weapon of mass destruction if it fell into the wrong hands.
The science of gene editing has proliferated throughout the modern world, seemingly with little to no thought given to the potentially disastrous ramifications of tinkering around with the genetic structure of the biosphere.
While naturally occurring pathogens are bad enough, genetic engineering has given rise to the potential existence of secretly developed biological weapons that could wipe out entire national populations practically overnight. But microbes given superpowers by mad scientists might actually pose less of a danger than other types of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have been let loose among an unwitting populace.
In 2013, a group of around 300 scientists formally rejected the premise that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption. This statement led numerous restaurant and grocery chains such as Chipotle and Trader Joe’s to outright ban GMOs from their kitchens and shelves.
Yet agribusiness corporations continue to alter the genetic code of vital crops like corn and soybeans under the protection of an army of scientific publications and news outlets that repeatedly assure their audiences that GMOs pose no threat to the human body or to the biosphere.
Agribusiness giants like Monsanto are heavily subsidized by the United States government. If GMOs truly are detrimental to human health, the unending spread of these unnatural organisms could be serving as a covert continuation of the government’s deadly habit of exposing its people to biological weapons.
4 Subliminal Messaging
It’s been well established that subliminal messaging is used extensively in advertising. This type of marketing usually exploits the baser urges of the populace to influence them to buy a product or service. But what if the same principles used in subliminal advertising are also being used by the United States intelligence community for the purposes of espionage or even mind control?
A formerly secret CIA document titled “The Operational Potential of Subliminal Perception” describes in precise detail the prescribed methodology for gaming the principles of subliminal perception to persuade someone to do something that they usually wouldn’t do.
While the author of the document ultimately concludes that the operational effectiveness of subliminal perception is “extremely limited,” the CIA is widely known for its knack for operating within the strictures of extreme limits and still accomplishing its clandestine objectives with flying colors.
3 Flying Aircraft Carriers
Gremlins: Airborne Launch & Recovery of Unmanned Aerial Systems
In the late 1920s, the United States Navy began exploring the tactical potential of airborne aircraft carriers. Two zeppelin-style airships were constructed, the USS Akron and the USS Macon, both of which carried a crew of 60 men and were capable of deploying and recovering Sparrow hawk fighter planes in flight. However, both Navy flying aircraft carriers met unfortunate ends and their remains now rest at the bottom of the ocean.
Recently, however, rumors have surfaced of DARPA’s plans to reopen this chapter of American history and initiate another attempt to develop airborne aircraft carriers for military use. This time, these proposed sentinels of the skies would carry drones instead of manned warplanes. Called the “Gremlins” program, this audacious DARPA initiative would consist of modified C-130 air transports loaded with stealthy drones capable of penetrating enemy defenses undetected.
Given DARPA’s reputation for suddenly announcing the planning stages of already-completed projects as soon as their cover might be blown, it’s reasonable to wonder whether there might already be “Gremlins” flying over our heads. If the fanciful testimony of supposed secret space program insiders like Corey Goode is to be believed, there may even be Avengers-style Air Force “Helicarriers” patrolling the skies now, rendered undetectable by advanced cloaking technology.
2 Project Thor
‘Rods from God’ Weapon System Gets Another Look
Potentially overshadowing the MOAB as the most lethal non-nuclear weapon in the United States’ arsenal, Project Thor is a technology designed by Jerry Pournelle in the 1950s that would obliterate enemies with bolts from above.
Colloquially termed “rods from God,” this type of Kinetic Energy Penetrator (KEP) would theoretically consist of a pair of satellites. One serves as a targeting hub, and the other is equipped with 6-meter-long (20 ft) tungsten rods that would be dropped on a target from orbit. Capable of penetrating hundreds of feet into the Earth’s crust, these thunderbolts from Thor would produce damage equivalent to a nuclear blast without the fallout.
Though the cost of delivering such rods into orbit is seen as prohibitive, reopening the Project Thor initiative was seriously considered as recently as the George W. Bush administration. With $21 trillion supposedly appropriated without authorization by the Department of Defense and a few other agencies, it’s hard to know what potentially cost-prohibitive theoretical projects the United States government might be silently making into reality without the knowledge or consent of its people.
Behind the gates of HAARP Alaska ~ Are the conspiracies real?
Hugo Chavez brought international attention to the HAARP facility in Alaska when he accused the United States Air Force of using this high-frequency transmitter array to trigger the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Until this point, casting aspersions on this United States Air Force research station was a faux pas committed by only the looniest of tinfoil hatters.
Theories about the darker side of HAARP were supposedly put to rest when the Air Force announced that this ionospheric research complex would be closing its doors in 2014. But the speculation was kindled back into flame when HAARP was reopened in 2017 by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).
Admittedly, it probably wasn’t a good choice from a PR perspective on the part of UAF to pick the artificially induced manifestation of a weather phenomenon as their first experiment. When HAARP’s new custodians announced their plans to create a version of the aurora borealis that was invisible to the naked eye in the skies over Alaska, many took this as confirmation of this controversial research station’s weather-manipulating abilities.
Although the HAARP program has been repeatedly accused of manipulating the weather and broadcasting mind control signals, none of these claims have been clearly demonstrated to be either true or false so far.
Samuel is a freelance writer and inquirer into the unknown. By rejecting the authority of conventional belief systems while grounding his perspectives in the core of human experience, he manifests content that dissolves barriers between perception and comprehension. Follow Samuel on Twitter.
We’ve compiled 101 Data Protection Tips to help you protect your passwords, financial information, and identity online.
Edited By Alex Santiago
Keeping your passwords, financial, and other personal information safe and protected from outside intruders has long been a priority of businesses, but it’s increasingly critical for consumers and individuals to heed data protection advice and use sound practices to keep your sensitive personal information safe and secure. There’s an abundance of information out there for consumers, families, and individuals on protecting passwords, adequately protecting desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices from hackers, malware, and other threats, and best practices for using the Internet safely. But there’s so much information that it’s easy to get confused, particularly if you’re not tech-savvy. We’ve compiled a list of 101 simple, straightforward best practices and tips for keeping your family’s personal information private and protecting your devices from threats.
SECURING YOUR DEVICES AND NETWORKS
1. Encrypt your data.
Data encryption isn’t just for technology geeks; modern tools make it possible for anyone to encrypt emails and other information. “Encryption used to be the sole province of geeks and mathematicians, but a lot has changed in recent years. In particular, various publicly available tools have taken the rocket science out of encrypting (and decrypting) email and files. GPG for Mail, for example, is an open source plug-in for the Apple Mail program that makes it easy to encrypt, decrypt, sign and verify emails using the Open PGP standard. And for protecting files, newer versions of Apple’s OS X operating system come with File Vault, a program that encrypts the hard drive of a computer. Those running Microsoft Windows have a similar program. This software will scramble your data, but won’t protect you from government authorities demanding your encryption key under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), which is why some aficionados recommend True Crypt, a program with some very interesting facilities, which might have been useful to David Miranda,” explains John Naughton in an article for The Guardian.
2. Backup your data.
One of the most basic, yet often overlooked, data protection tips is backing up your data. Basically, this creates a duplicate copy of your data so that if a device is lost, stolen, or compromised, you don’t also lose your important information. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and insurance company Nationwide points out, “According to Nationwide, 68% of small businesses don’t have a disaster recovery plan. The problem with this is the longer it takes you to restore your data, the more money you’ll lose. Gartner found that this downtime can cost companies as much as $300,000 an hour.
3. The cloud provides a viable backup option.
While you should use sound security practices when you’re making use of the cloud, it can provide an ideal solution for backing up your data. Since data is not stored on a local device, it’s easily accessible even when your hardware becomes compromised. “Cloud storage, where data is kept offsite by a provider, is a guarantee of adequate disaster recovery,” according to this post on TechRadar.
4. Anti-malware protection is a must.
Malware is a serious issue plaguing many a computer user, and it’s known for cropping up in inconspicuous places, unbeknownst to users. Anti-malware protection is essential for laying a foundation of security for your devices. “Malware (short for malicious software) is software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer without your consent. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, scareware and more. It can be present on websites and emails, or hidden in downloadable files, photos, videos, freeware or shareware. (However, it should be noted that most websites, shareware or freeware applications do not come with malware.) The best way to avoid getting infected is to run a good anti-virus protection program, do periodic scans for spyware, avoid clicking on suspicious email links or websites. But scammers are sneaky: sometimes malware is cleverly disguised as an email from a friend, or a useful website. Even the most cautious of web-surfers will likely pick up an infection at some point.,” explains Clark Howard.
5. Make your old computers’ hard drives unreadable.
Much information can be gleaned through old computing devices, but you can protect your personal data by making hard drives unreadable before disposing of them. “Make old computers’ hard-drives unreadable. After you back up your data and transfer the files elsewhere, you should sanitize by disk shredding, magnetically cleaning the disk, or using software to wipe the disk clean. Destroy old computer disks and backup tapes,” according to the Florida Office of the Attorney General.
6. Install operating system updates.
Operating system updates are a gigantic pain for users; it’s the honest truth. But they’re a necessary evil, as these updates contain critical security patches that will protect your computer from recently discovered threats. Failing to install these updates means your computer is at risk. “No matter which operating system you use, it’s important that you update it regularly. Windows operating systems are typically updated at least monthly, typically on so-called ‘Patch Tuesday.’ Other operating systems may not be updated quite as frequently or on a regular schedule. It’s best to set your operating system to update automatically. The method for doing so will vary depending upon your particular operating system,” says PrivacyRights.org.
7. Automate your software updates.
In order to ensure that you’re downloading the latest security updates from operating systems and other software, enable automatic updates. “Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if that’s an available option,” suggests StaySafeOnline.org.
8. Secure your wireless network at your home or business.
A valuable tip for both small business owners and individuals or families, it’s always recommended to secure your wireless network with a password. This prevents unauthorized individuals within proximity to hijack your wireless network. Even if they’re merely attempting to get free Wi-Fi access, you don’t want to inadvertently share private information with other people who are using your network without permission. “If you have a Wi-Fi network for your workplace, make sure it is secure, encrypted, and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router,” says FCC.gov in an article offering data protection tips for small businesses.
9. Turn off your computer.
When you’re finished using your computer or laptop, power it off. Leaving computing devices on, and most often, connected to the Internet, opens the door for rogue attacks. “Leaving your computer connected to the Internet when it’s not in use gives scammers 24/7 access to install malware and commit cyber crimes. To be safe, turn off your computer when it’s not in use,” suggests CSID, a division of Experian.
10. Use a firewall.
“Firewalls assist in blocking dangerous programs, viruses or spyware before they infiltrate your system. Various software companies offer firewall protection, but hardware-based firewalls, like those frequently built into network routers, provide a better level of security,” says Geek Squad.
11. Practice the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP).
Indiana University Information Technology recommends following the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP): “Do not log into a computer with administrator rights unless you must do so to perform specific tasks. Running your computer as an administrator (or as a Power User in Windows) leaves your computer vulnerable to security risks and exploits. Simply visiting an unfamiliar Internet site with these high-privilege accounts can cause extreme damage to your computer, such as reformatting your hard drive, deleting all your files, and creating a new user account with administrative access. When you do need to perform tasks as an administrator, always follow secure procedures.”
12. Use “passphrases” rather than “passwords.”
What’s the difference? “…we recommend you use passphrases–a series of random words or a sentence. The more characters your passphrase has, the stronger it is. The advantage is these are much easier to remember and type, but still hard for cyber attackers to hack.” explains SANS.
13. Encrypt data on your USB drives and SIM cards.
Encrypting your data on your removable storage devices can make it more difficult (albeit not impossible) for criminals to interpret your personal data should your device become lost or stolen. USB drives and SIM cards are excellent examples of removable storage devices that can simply be plugged into another device, enabling the user to access all the data stored on it. Unless, of course, it’s encrypted. “Your USB drive could easily be stolen and put into another computer, where they can steal all of your files and even install malware or viruses onto your flash drive that will infect any computer it is plugged in to. Encrypt your SIM card in case your phone is ever stolen, or take it out if you are selling your old cell phone,” according to Mike Juba in an article on Business2Community.
14. Don’t store passwords with your laptop or mobile device.
A Post-It note stuck to the outside of your laptop or tablet is “akin to leaving your keys in your car,” says The Ohio State University’s Office of the Chief Information Officer. Likewise, you shouldn’t leave your laptop in your car. It’s a magnet for identity thieves.
15. Disable file and media sharing if you don’t need it.
If you have a home wireless network with multiple devices connected, you might find it convenient to share files between machines. However, there’s no reason to make files publicly available if it’s not necessary. “Make sure that you share some of your folders only on the home network. If you don’t really need your files to be visible to other machines, disable file and media sharing completely,” says Kaspersky.
16. Create encrypted volumes for portable, private data files.
HowToGeek offers a series of articles with tips, tricks, and tools for encrypting files or sets of files using various programs and tools. This article covers a method for creating an encrypted volume to easily transport private, sensitive data for access on multiple computers.
17. Overwrite deleted files.
Deleting your information on a computing device rarely means it’s truly deleted permanently. Often, this data still exists on disk and can be recovered by someone who knows what they’re doing (such as, say, a savvy criminal determined to find your personal information). The only way to really ensure that your old data is gone forever is to overwrite it. Luckily, there are tools to streamline this process. PCWorld covers a tool and process for overwriting old data on Windows operating systems.
18. Don’t forget to delete old files from cloud backups.
If you’re diligent about backing up your data and use a secure cloud storage service to do so, you’re headed in the right direction. That said, cloud backups, and any data backups really, create an added step when it comes to deleting old information. Don’t forget to delete files from your backup services in addition to those you remove (or overwrite) on your local devices. “If you back up your files to the cloud, remember that even though you delete them on your computer or mobile device, they’re still stored in your cloud account. To completely delete the file, you’ll also need to remove it from your backup cloud account,” says re/code.
DATA PROTECTION TIPS FOR MOBILE DEVICES
19. Consciously check and configure app privacy settings.
Most apps offer privacy settings for users, enabling you to determine how much and what types of information are shared or stored. Always choose the least amount of data-sharing possible. Casey Chin from Wired explains, “You probably spend a lot of your day inside apps: catching up on the news, playing music and movies, keeping in touch with friends, racing cartoon characters around a track, and so on. Every once in a while though, it’s worth running an audit on these apps to make sure they’re not overreaching and going beyond their remit—collecting more data about you and controlling more of your devices than you’d like.”
20. Enable remote location and device-wiping.
“If your gadget is lost or stolen, tracking apps can tell you exactly where your phone is. These apps also let you wipe sensitive information remotely. If your phone does end up landing in the wrong hands, you can at least make sure they don’t get your information,” says Kim Komando.
21. Take care of privacy settings immediately upon setup.
When configuring a new device or operating system, configuring privacy settings should be the first order of business. This ensures that you’re not inadvertently sharing sensitive information as you set up your standard apps and services. “The minute you download and install iOS 8, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system for iPhone and iPad, you should take note of these privacy steps in order to lock down your device. iOS 8 has a number of new features tied to your location. It also has new privacy settings, allowing users to limit how long data is stored for, such as message expiry features and new private browsing settings…Before you do anything like customizing your phone, loading new apps, or syncing your data for the first time, these first seven settings need to be checked, and if necessary, changed,” explains Zack Whittaker in an article appearing on ZDNet.
22. Use MyPermissions.com to control app permissions in one fell swoop.
While it’s not all-inclusive, MyPermissions.com is a handy tool that allows you to check your permission settings across a multitude of apps, get reminders to clean your permissions with mobile-friendly apps, and get alerts when apps access your personal information so that you can remove it with a single click.
23. Lock your smartphone and tablet devices.
Practically everyone has a smartphone, tablet, or both these days. All it takes is a single mishap where your device slips out of your pocket or briefcase at a restaurant or on public transportation, and your data could wind up in the hands of someone who will use it maliciously. You can take steps to protect your data in the event of a lost or stolen device, however, beginning with locking your device. When your device is locked, a thief must crack your password before gaining access to your apps or personal information, adding a layer of protection. Unfortunately, many don’t lock their devices, says Monica Anderson of Pew Research, “More than a quarter (28%) of smartphone owners say they do not use a screen lock or other security features to access their phone.
24. Don’t forget to backup your mobile device data.
Another data protection strategy that’s often overlooked for mobile devices is the need to backup your data from your mobile device in addition to your desktop computer’s or laptop’s data. There are some automatic cloud-backup options, but this article on Yahoo Small Business Advisor suggests an interesting strategy: using IFTTT (If This Then That) to facilitate automatic backups of important files, such as photos or work documents.
25. Disable automatic uploading.
Some devices automatically backup your data to the cloud, and some apps used on smartphones or tablets store information in remote servers. Yes, having a backup of your data is a good thing, but the backup should be accessible only by you or someone you authorize. You can prevent your devices from sharing your personal photos and other information with the cloud for the world to see by disabling automatic backup settings on your device and on individual apps. In an article on BBC, Colin Barras explains, “As cloud services grow it’s becoming common for devices like smartphones to upload user data to remote servers by default. If you’re at all worried about some of your photos falling into the hands of malicious parties it’s probably not a bad idea to check your phone settings to see what data is being automatically backed up to the cloud, and disable automatic uploading.”
26. Disable Bluetooth when you’re not using it.
Bluetooth technology has offered incredible conveniences to the mobile world, but it also opens the door for vulnerabilities. Most threats exploiting Bluetooth connectivity are dependent on the active Bluetooth connection, and while they aren’t typically devastating or dangerous, they’re certainly inconvenient and can be serious. “Bluetooth attacks depend on exploiting the permission request/grant process that is the backbone of Bluetooth connectivity. Regardless of the security features on your device, the only way to completely prevent attackers from exploiting that permission request/grant process is to power off your device’s Bluetooth function when you’re not using it — not putting it into an invisible or undetectable mode, but completely turning it off (there are bad apps that can power your device back on, just one more reason overall app security is vital),” advises Kaspersky Lab.
27. Get anti-virus or anti-malware protection for your mobile devices.
Anti-malware protection software is a given for most computer users, but many consumers still overlook the importance of protecting mobile devices from the growing number of malware programs impacting all types of mobile devices. Just a few years ago, however, security options for mobile devices offered mediocre protection against threats, at best. “Besides antivirus and malware scanning, security apps for Android also offer a full McAfee LiveSafe 2014 Android screenshot McAfee for Android security suite with features such as device location, remote wipe, backup, and suspicious-URL blocking. These extra features usually require a premium subscription, but most apps offer a minimal, basic level of protection for free, including malware scanning,” according to an article on PCWorld.
28. Check your push notification settings on mobile devices.
Push notifications are notices posted to your device homescreen so that you don’t miss important information or updates. “Many applications send proactive notifications to your phone’s home screen. In general, these notifications are valuable and make it easy to keep track of what’s happening in your favorite applications. Personal health applications may send these types of notifications as well. If you are using applications that use push notifications, review them to ensure that sensitive data isn’t being shared unexpectedly to your home screen. You don’t want your personal health data laying out in plain site on your phone,” according to an article on TrueVault.
29. Enable Touch ID if you use an Apple device.
If you use an iPhone 5 or later, you can take advantage of an added security measure known as Touch ID, a technologically advanced fingerprint security tactic. “The actual image of your fingerprint is not stored anywhere, and is instead converted to a mathematical representation of a fingerprint that cannot be reverse engineered into one. This mathematical representation is stored in a Secure Enclave within your phone’s chip, and is never accessed by iOS or other apps, never stored on Apple servers, and never backed up to iCloud or anywhere else.”
30. Set up content filters.
If you have children who use mobile devices, check into security options such as content filters that can be activated either through your wireless provider or on the physical device. These filters restrict access to certain types of content, ensuring that your children cannot inadvertently go to websites or download apps that contain either inappropriate or malicious content. Verizon Wireless, for instance, offers a number of content filters and security options for families.
31. Set your device to automatically lock after a period of inactivity.
Most smartphones and tablets enable you to set a specified time frame, after which the device automatically locks if it’s been inactive. This means if you lose your smartphone but it wasn’t locked, it will lock on its own, ideally before a thief obtains it and attempts to access your personal information. “Configure your settings to ensure that your device locks after a short period of time,” says DeviceCheck.ca, formerly known as ProtectYourData.ca.
32. Be mindful of the apps you install.
There are new apps entering the market constantly. But too many apps running in the background not only slows down your smartphone or tablet, but some of them could be sharing your personal information, even your current location via GPS, without your knowledge. Don’t install apps unless they’re from trusted sources. “The problem is that many third-party app stores are not safe. If you choose to download an APK file and install it yourself, you could be putting malware on your device. You may also be sent an APK file in an email or a text message, or you could be prompted to install one after clicking on a link in your web browser. It’s best not to install these unless you are certain it is safe,” according to an article on Digital Trends.
33. Prevent your smartphone from being stolen.
While remote wiping and location-tracking solutions are great for finding your device and protecting your data if it’s been stolen, the ideal solution is to avoid having your smartphone or other device stolen in the first place. “One of your best ‘grab-prevention’ options is a wireless proximity alarm system. These handy app/device combos let you know when your phone gets more than the pre-set distance limit from the proximity device (which is usually small enough to fit on a key ring),” ComputerWorld recommends.
34. Use an on-device, personal firewall.
Firewalls aren’t just for servers and browsers; you can get a personal firewall for your mobile device, too. MySecurityAwareness.com suggests installing “an on-device personal firewall to protect mobile device interfaces from direct attack.”
35. Wipe devices and set to factory defaults before donating or discarding.
Don’t just give your old mobile devices to someone else, particularly someone you don’t know, without first wiping it clean and restoring it to factory settings. Otherwise, you’re basically handing over all your personal data to whoever ends up with your old smartphone or tablet. “Many security experts say performing a factory reset on your old phone is exactly what you’re supposed to do if you plan to sell or donate it. According to the nation’s major wireless carriers, a reset will erase all personal information – such as texts, contact lists, photos and important user data – from your phone’s memory,” says WTHR.com. But, this method isn’t fool-proof; in fact, 13 Investigates put this very theory to the test and found that in some cases, a factory reset will wipe a device clean. In others, it won’t. The solution? Do a factory reset as a precaution, but do your research and determine the best way to discard of your device or cleaning it before donating it to charity.
36. Be mindful of eavesdroppers when shopping via your mobile device in public.
If you have time to kill on your morning commute, you might browse the virtual shopping aisles, but be mindful of who is sitting beside you or behind you. Criminals can easily peep over your shoulder and watch as you enter passwords, credit card details, and other information. “A long commute on a bus or a train is the perfect time to get some holiday shopping done, but beware of that stranger sitting next to you. Your neighbors might try and read your screen and steal your credit card number or other information. Investing in a privacy screen or filter can significantly reduce the risk of peeping thieves. Screen protectors come in all shapes and sizes and at Best Buy, you can find the one that’s best for your favorite tech gadget,” advises BestBuy in an article offering tips for keeping your digital data safe on Cyber Monday (and really, anytime you’re shopping online).
PROTECTING YOUR IDENTITY
37. Decide what you define as Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
ComputerWorld asks six privacy experts for their recommendations for protecting data in the modern digital age. “‘The traditional definition of personally identifying information (PII) — health records, credit card numbers, social security number, etc. — is so 20th century. The big data age of the Internet is upon us, and even data not previously considered to be PII can feel very personal when viewed in a broader context. ‘Bits of data, when combined, tell a lot about you,’ says Alex Fowler, chief privacy officer at Mozilla. Those aggregated bits, which constitute the new PII, may include such information as your email address, browsing history and search history. ‘The definition of PII — information that a person has a legitimate interest in understanding and protecting — is going to be broadened as we move further into the information society,’ says Fowler. ‘It’s a different footprint than what your parents ever thought about. Think about what you consider personal information,’ Fowler adds. ‘You need a working definition.
38. Use secure passwords.
Passwords are easily cracked by hackers, particularly if you don’t use sound password-creation practices. The best passwords contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. You should also avoid using easily guessed words or alphanumeric combinations, such as the names of children or pets, birth dates, addresses, and similar information that can be easily guessed by someone looking at your Facebook profile or through a Google search. “The shorter and less complex your password is, the quicker it is for cyber criminals to come up with the correct combination of characters in your password.” suggests the CSA Alliance.
39. Don’t use Social Security numbers, phone numbers, addresses, or other personally identifiable information as passwords.
Don’t use numbers or combinations associated with other personally identifiable information as all or even part of your passwords. “Don’t use any part of your social security number (or any other sensitive info, like a credit card number) as a password, user ID or personal identification number (PIN). If someone gains access to this information, it will be among the first things they use to try to get into your account,” Bank of America advises.
40. Be overly cautious when sharing personal information.
This tip applies to both the online and offline worlds: Who is asking for your personal information, such as your Social Security number or credit card information? Why do they need it? How will they use it? What security measures do they have in place to ensure that your private information remains private? According to the Department of Justice, “Sharing personal information with others you do not know personally is one of your biggest risks online. Sharing sensitive information such as your address, phone number, family members’ names, car information, passwords, work history, credit status, social security numbers, birth date, school names, passport information, driver’s license numbers, insurance policy numbers, loan numbers, credit/ debit card numbers, PIN numbers, and bank account information is risky and should be avoided. Consider removing your name from websites that share your personal information obtained from public records (including your phone number, address, social media avatars, and pictures) with anyone on the internet.”
41. Watch out for impersonators.
Related to the previous tip, there are many impostors who attempt to trick unsuspecting consumers into giving out their sensitive personal information by pretending to be the individual’s bank, credit card company, or other entity. This can happen by phone or online, via phishing emails or websites designed to mimic the authentic company’s look and feel. “Make sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request,” advises the Federal Trade Commission.
42. Share passwords carefully.
This is a data protection tip that’s been emphasized by many security experts, yet there are still many people who fail to follow this advice. The truth is, it’s impractical in the modern environment. Families need to share passwords to bank accounts, credit cards, and other online services with spouses, and many share a single login to services like Netflix. In the workplace, there are abundant reasons why co-workers may need to share login credentials. You shouldn’t give out passwords without concern; rather, determine when another person legitimately requires access to your personal information or account and grant access on a case-by-case basis. If another person needs access for a single, isolated purpose, change your password when the task is completed and they no longer require access. Another option, suggested in an article on PCMag, is to use a password manager that can share single login credentials with other people without them actually being able to view or interpret the login information.
43. Don’t use the same password for more than one account or service.
A password manager seems like an even better idea when you consider the fact that you should never use the same password for more than one account or service. Think about it: If a hacker cracks your password on one website, they suddenly have cracked your password for a dozen more. But remembering the slew of passwords the average person would need to recall to access the many accounts and services most people have these days is no simple feat, unless you have a photographic memory. In lieu of a password manager, you could follow Danny Heisner’s advice at Cranking the Ranking and create your own password algorithm that makes it simple to remember all your passwords without ever using the same one twice.
44. Watch out for theft of your government-issued identification numbers.
Thieves don’t always go after credit and debit cards; sometimes, they steal important government-issued identification numbers, such as driver’s license numbers or Social Security numbers in attempt to assume another individual’s identity. “If you are notified of a breach involving your driver’s license or another government document, contact the agency that issued the document and find out what it recommends in such situations. You might be instructed to cancel the document and obtain a replacement. Or the agency might instead ‘flag’ your file to prevent an imposter from getting a license in your name,” suggests PrivacyRights.org.
45. Don’t write your passwords down.
It’s tempting to keep a written list of passwords, or even a single password written down in a notebook or, worse yet, a sticky note. But this is a bad idea, as it makes it extraordinarily easy for someone else to steal your login information and access your accounts without your permission. “Writing your password on a ‘sticky-note’ and sticking it on your monitor makes it very easy for people who regularly steal passwords to obtain yours. Hiding it under your keyboard or mouse pad is not much better, as these are common hiding places for passwords. However if you must write something down, jot down a hint or clue that will help jog your memory or store the written password in a secure, locked place,” says SANS.org.
46. Organize your passwords in logical groupings.
By using a different system for creating passwords for different types of websites, such as social networking websites, financial institutions, and other membership sites, you ensure that should a hacker crack one of your algorithms, they won’t immediately be able to crack all of your accounts’ passwords. “First up, group your passwords by function — social media, financial information, work — and use a different approach for creating passwords within each group. That way, if a hacker figures out your Facebook password, he won’t be just clicks away from your bank account,” explains an article on Boston Globe.
47. Avoid faxing sensitive information unless absolutely necessary.
Faxing can be a convenient way to send information quickly, but it’s not possible to ensure that the intended recipient is the person who receives the document on the other end, or that the information isn’t visible to someone else in the process of transporting it to another department or individual. “Personal information should not be sent by fax unless it is necessary to transmit the information quickly. It is important that sufficient precautions are taken to ensure that it is received only by its intended recipient,” says BCMJ.org.
48. Shred old documents and statements.
Most consumers receive an abundance of mail largely considered junk mail. Credit card statements, bank account statements, notifications regarding other accounts, credit card offers, and more plague the mailboxes of consumers across the U.S. While online access to accounts has made printed statements practically unnecessary, many consumers simply toss these items out when they’re received. But doing so without first shredding them could put your personal information in the hands of thieves. “Identity theft is the nation’s number one complaint, according to the Federal Trade Commission. One of the most common methods used by thieves to steal personal information is dumpster diving, which entails rummaging through trash looking for old bills or other documents that contain personal information,” explains Katie Delong, in an article for Fox 6 Now. Fellowes.com offers an informative list of documents that should be shredded, as well as best practices for document shredding to ensure adequate data protection.
49. Get rid of old data you no longer need.
Keeping your computer and mobile devices clean is a good practice to ensure usability, but it’s also wise to eliminate old data you no longer need. Why give potential criminals more info than absolutely necessary? “Keep only the data you need for routine current business, safely archive or destroy older data, and remove it from all computers and other devices (smart phones, laptops, flash drives, external hard disks),” advises the Massachussetts Institute of Technology.
50. Properly dispose of electronics.
It’s true that nothing is ever really deleted permanently from a computing device; hackers and technologically savvy criminals (and, of course, the FBI) are often able to recover information from hard drives if they haven’t been properly disposed of. “Document shredding and electronics recycling are two of the most effective ways to dispose of sensitive records, data, documents and information. Electronic devices, even when no longer in use, often retain confidential personal information that can fall into the wrong hands if disposed of incorrectly,” the Better Business Bureau says.
PROTECTING YOUR CREDIT
51. Sign when using debit cards, don’t enter your PIN.
When possible, ask cashiers to process your debit card as a credit card transaction. Not all retail stores allow this (it results in a small processing fee to be paid by the retailer), but most do. It’s often simpler just to enter your PIN, but it also makes it easier for thieves to steal all the information they need to make unauthorized purchases using your card. “Not entering you PIN into a keypad will help reduce the chances of a hacker stealing that number too, Young says. Crooks can do more damage with your PIN, possibly printing a copy of the card and taking money out of an ATM, he says. During Target’s breach last year, the discount retailer said hackers gained access to customers’ PINs. Home Depot, however, said there was no indication that PINs were compromised in the breach at its stores,” explains Joseph Pasani in an Associated Press article appearing on USA Today.
52. Sign up for email alerts for transactions.
If your bank or credit card company offers this service, sign up to receive an email alert when your card has been used for a transaction. This makes it easy to pinpoint charges you didn’t make, and allows you to take rapid action to cancel cards. “Sign up for email alerts when something is charged to the account. Not all banks will offer this, but these alerts let you know when a new transaction has been made using your card,” says CT Watchdog.
53. Review your statements regularly.
“Review your bank and credit card statements regularly to look for suspicious transactions. If you have online access to your bank and credit card accounts, it is a good idea to check them regularly, perhaps weekly, for transactions that aren’t yours. Contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately to report a problem. Debit card users in particular should promptly report a lost card or an unauthorized transaction. Unlike the federal protections for credit cards that cap losses from fraudulent charges at $50, your liability limit for a debit card could be up to $500, or more, if you don’t notify your bank within two business days after discovering the loss or theft,” advises FDIC.gov.
54. Keep an eye out for small transactions.
Fraudsters don’t always make major purchases with stolen cards. In fact, there have been some otherwise-legitimate companies that have scammed their own customers by charging small amounts to credit and debit cards they believed would go unnoticed by consumers. Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago, talks with ChicagoBusiness.com about his experience: “Mr. Ablin says those who pay with credit should be vigilant about tracking their bills. He recalls after a recent online order he placed for flowers that a random charge for $1.99 appeared on his account from an unknown source. He found that the flower company he used was scamming people for this small amount. He figures the company believed most people wouldn’t notice the relatively small amount. ‘Don’t necessarily look for the Hawaiian vacation on your statement,’ Mr. Ablin says.”
55. Be wary of offers of help following a data breach.
It’s an unfortunate reality that a data breach impacting a major corporation and, therefore, hundreds of thousands of its customers, spells opportunity for thieves. “Be very careful about responding to an unsolicited e-mail promoting credit monitoring services, since many of these offers are fraudulent. If you’re interested in credit monitoring and it’s not being offered for free by your retailer or bank, do your own independent research to find a reputable service,” suggests FDIC.gov.
56. Get a one-call fraud alert.
Calling one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and asking for a one-call fraud alert is a great way to stay on top of suspicious activity. “You only need to call one of the three credit bureaus. The one you contact is required to contact the other two. This one-call fraud alert will remain in your credit file for at least 90 days. The fraud alert requires creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or increasing credit limits on your existing accounts. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report, you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus upon request,” suggests Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.
57. Shop on familiar websites.
There are hundreds of thousands of online retailers, known as e-commerce vendors, some more credible than others. Always opt to shop with a well-known retailer you’re familiar with, rather than smaller, unfamiliar sites that could merely be a facade for credit card theft. “When it comes to online shopping, it’s best to use a trusted website rather than selecting a random website with a search engine. If you’re familiar with the company and website, it’s easier to avoid scams. For instance, many consumer items can be bought just as easily for competitive prices using Amazon.com vs. finding boutique online shopping. Amazon has reputation and regulations to uphold,” according to NENS.com. Additionally, major online retailers are more likely to offer fraud protection options and the ability to return damaged or defective merchandise.
58. Get a free credit report.
Secura Insurance Companies recommends getting a copy of your credit report annually. “The FACT Act of 2003 entitles you to a free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus. The reports should be examined for fraudulent activity. To obtain your free annual credit report, either order online via http://www.annualcreditreport.com, or by telephone at ( 877) 322-8228.
59. Be careful shopping online — for personal and business purchases.
Because shopping online is one of the easiest ways to get your credit card number stolen, some experts suggest maintaining a separate, low-balance credit card specifically for online purchases. “Online shopping security is a concern for everyone who makes purchases on the Internet, but it is also an important issue for business leaders — and not just those in the retail sector. Firms also go shopping online, and their employees frequently make business purchases on the company credit card.” explains Security Intelligence.
PROTECTING YOUR DATA ON SOCIAL NETWORKING
60. Don’t share too much information on social networking platforms.
Social networking has become a way of life for many individuals, but sharing too much personal information on your social media profiles can be dangerous. For instance, many hackers have successfully guessed passwords through trial-and-error methods, using combinations of common information (such as children’s names, addresses, and other details) easily found on users’ social media profiles. “Do not post information that would make you vulnerable, such as your address or information about your schedule or routine. If your connections post information about you, make sure the combined information is not more than you would be comfortable with strangers knowing. Also be considerate when posting information, including photos, about your connections,” advises the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT).
61. Customize your social networking privacy settings.
Social networks like Facebook enable users to customize their privacy settings. On Facebook, for instance, you can choose who is able to see the content you post and who is able to view information on your profile, such as your place of employment, birth date, and hometown. Always choose the highest level of privacy possible to ensure that your personal data doesn’t end up in the hands of someone with malicious intent. “The content you post online will be around for a long time, but you can customize privacy settings on most social media sites. This will affect who can contact you and who can see the information you post. Be choosy: while it’s fun to share information, keep your online reputation in mind. And if you over-disclose information publicly, it could be used by identity thieves to hijack your identity,” suggests the Chronicle of Data Protection.
62. Don’t trust “friends” who claim to be mugged or have other unbelievable stories.
Facebook has become a dangerous platform for users who aren’t careful. Scams have been attempted, some successfully, on the social network, involving thieves masquerading as users on an individual’s friends list, asking for financial help after supposedly being mugged in a foreign country. Non-suspecting users who merely want to help their friends may wire money to these criminals, failing to recognize the ploy. According to the BBB, “Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook Messenger, even if it appears to be from someone you know and trust…especially if it involves receiving or sending money.” Never trust anyone who cannot verify they are, in fact, the person they claim to be. Ask strategic questions to which the answers are not readily available on the user’s profile or easily located online. If it seems suspicious, get in touch with the person via phone or another communication method to try to verify the story.
63. Block suspicious or shady users on Facebook.
For users you don’t know outside of Facebook who befriend you and then make you uncomfortable by asking repeated, personal questions or pressure you to meet them offline, blocking them is a viable option. “You also have a ‘Block List’ feature in your privacy settings. If you choose to block people, you cannot interact with them on Facebook at all,” says Just Ask Gemalto. Blocking shady users means they cannot message you, contact you, or see that you’re online. In fact, they cannot view your profile at all.
64. Protect your Tweets.
If you’re using Twitter to promote your business, you might want your Tweets to be publicly available. However, if you use Twitter for personal communications, you have the option of setting your Tweets to private, meaning only approved followers are able to view your content.
65. Check your privacy settings regularly.
Privacy options are always changing on social networking platforms, so be sure to check your personal settings regularly and make adjustments as needed. “Content uploaded to social media platforms is not always secure, so it’s imperative to understand how to use the privacy features your social media sites have to offer,” according to Social Media Examiner. Click through to the full article for a breakdown of how to update your privacy settings on each of the popular social networks.
66. Know who your friends are.
Don’t accept random friend requests on Facebook from people you don’t know. “Some of the fun is creating a large pool of friends from many aspects of your life. That doesn’t mean all friends are created equal. Use tools to manage the information you share with friends in different groups or even have multiple online pages. If you’re trying to create a public persona as a blogger or expert, create an open profile or a ‘fan’ page that encourages broad participation and limits personal information. Use your personal profile to keep your real friends (the ones you know trust) more synched up with your daily life,” advises StaySafeOnline.org.
67. Use two-step verification for LinkedIn.
“LinkedIn offers members the ability to turn on two-step verification for their accounts. This will require an account password and a numeric code sent to your phone via SMS whenever you attempt to sign in from a device that your LinkedIn account does not recognize,” according to a post on Business News Daily. This ensures that should someone crack your account password, they will be unable to login unless they can’t access your account unless they also gain access to your code — meaning they’d have to also be in possession of your mobile device.
68. Contact the social network to regain access, and let your friends know if you’ve been hacked.
Sometimes, having your social networks hacked means your friends could be being conned by criminals pretending to be you. Or, you could even be blocked from your own account if they’ve changed the password or conducted activities that have led to your account being banned by the service. “If you’re locked out of your account or blocked from accessing it, many Web services have steps in place so you can get back in. For example, Facebook has a system where you can use a trusted source like a friend to take back your account. Search each service’s help section for specific instructions. Speaking of friends, you should let your contacts know that you’ve been hacked, and report the issue to the site. Also, run a scan of your computer or mobile device using a trusted and up-to-date antivirus program,” advises re/code.
PROTECTING YOUR DATA ONLINE
69. Avoid sensitive transactions on public Wi-Fi.
Working at the local coffee shop may have some appeal, but relying on a public Wi-Fi connection means your data is interceptable by outsiders. Avoid conducting banking transactions and sending other sensitive information over a public Wi-Fi network. As the FTC notes, “If you use an unsecured network to log in to an unencrypted site — or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page — other users on the network can see what you see and what you send. They could hijack your session and log in as you.”
70. Use website privacy settings.
Websites other than social networking platforms also offer some privacy options. YouTube, for instance (which could arguably be considered a social networking platform, as well), allows users to make videos private or viewable only by specified persons. “You can often find privacy controls on a site by navigating to a control panel or settings menu. Sometimes, websites will draw attention to privacy controls while in other cases they will group them under broader categories like “Account Settings”. Privacy controls may also be offered during the sign-up process for a new online service or account. To best protect your privacy you should explore and understand privacy controls available to you on a given website/platform before you share personal information on or with the site,” recommends TRUSTe.
71. Don’t forget to sign out.
Signing in to online services is necessary when you need to access your personal accounts, but many users forget to sign out when they’re finished using a service. “But when using public computers like in a cybercafe or library, remember that you may still be signed into any services you’ve been using even after you close the browser. So when using a public computer, be sure to sign out by clicking on your account photo or email address in the top right corner and selecting Sign out. If you use public computers often, use 2-step verification to help keep your account safe, and be extra careful to sign out of your accounts and shut down your browser when you have finished using the web,” according to the Google Safety Center.
72. Don’t open emails from people you don’t know.
If you receive an email from a source or individual you don’t recognize, don’t open it, and definitely avoid clicking any links or file attachments. The Hubbard Township Police Department in Ohio suggests, “Delete email from unknown sources. Watch out for files attached to e-mails, particularly those with an ‘exe’ extension-even if people you know sent them to you. Some files transport and distribute viruses and other programs that can permanently destroy files and damage computers and Web sites. Do not forward e-mail if you are not completely sure that any attached files are safe.”
73. Use two-factor authentication.
Two-factor authentication is an additional layer of security that provides protection in the event that a hacker guesses or cracks your password. Two-factor authentication requires a second verification step, such as the answer to a secret question or a personal identification number (PIN). You should opt for two-factor authentication when given an option. “Some websites, such as Google, will text you a code when you login to verify your identity, while others have small devices that you can carry around to generate the code. Authenticator apps are also available on all major smartphone platforms. Other types of two-factor authentication do exist as well, so look in the settings of your banking, shopping, and e-mail hosts for the option,” explains the Webroot Threat Blog.
74. Don’t believe everything you read.
This tip is important for much beyond data protection, such as protecting your financial assets, your reputation, and perhaps most importantly, your personal confidence or self-worth. Too many people have fallen victim to scams online, by buying into false claims and promises of vast accumulation of wealth. Michael Daniel, on The White House Blog, advises, “Be cautious about what you receive or read online – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Best-case scenario is you lose a few bucks buying into a pyramid scheme that will never net you any profits; worst-case, your personal information is sold and your identity stolen.
75. Use secure websites, especially for sensitive transactions.
When you’re conducting a financial transaction or sharing other sensitive information, always use a secure website to do so. Secure Socket Layers (SSL) is a commonly used website security protocol that provides additional protection for data as it’s transmitted through the Internet. You can tell if you’re using a secure website by looking at the beginning of the URL. Those beginning with https:// are secure. “Web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox display a padlock icon to indicate that the website is secure, as it also displays https:// in the address bar. When a user connects to a website via HTTPS, the website encrypts the session with a Digital Certificate,” explains Instant SSL.
76. Avoid clicking on links in emails.
Most everyone gets the occasional email from their bank, financial institution, or similar accounts and services. But to be safe, you should always open a browser window and type the URL in the address bar, rather than click on links in emails. Why? Phishing emails are one of the most common ways hackers obtain personal information, tricking users into inadvertently handing over their login credentials to bank accounts, credit cards, and other accounts where they can glean further information, make unauthorized purchases, or even steal your identity. “Don’t get caught by phishers. Phishing is when you get an email or a social media message that looks like it’s coming from a legitimate place such as a bank or social networking site. If you click on a link in the message, you’re taken to a website that looks legitimate but could be run by criminals trying to trick you to sign in with your username and password so they can capture that information. Your best bet is not to click on the link but rather type the web address (such as mybank.com) into your browser window and go to the site that way,” the Google Safety Center recommends.
77. Be mindful of your online reputation.
Any information you enter on social networking websites, accounts, or any other website could potentially be up for grabs in the event of a data breach. In general, the information you put online contributes to your online reputation, which can impact your chances of securing employment, getting into your college of choice, and create many problems if the information is unfavorable. Monitoring your online reputation can also help you pick up on sensitive information that shouldn’t be publicly available so you can take action to have it removed. Microsoft suggests searching all variations of your name, avoiding searching for personal identification numbers (such as your driver’s license number or Social Security number), and asking website owners to remove this information if you find it published. You should also check sites you frequent, as well as social networking websites, so that you can clean up your profiles if necessary.
78. Don’t download files from untrustworthy websites.
Websites like peer-to-peer file-sharing platforms are not only illegal, but they’re often rife with malware. Avoid downloading files from any website that you don’t trust completely. “According to a press release released this morning, the research found that of the 30 top pirate sites, ‘90% contained malware and other ‘Potentially Unwanted Programmes’ designed to deceive or defraud unwitting viewers.’ The ‘Potentially Unwanted Programmes’ category is rather broad, and includes popups and ads that link to download managers. In addition, the report links one-third of the sites to credit card fraud. ‘The rogue sites are also rife with credit card scams, with over two-thirds (67%) of the 30 sites containing credit card fraud,’ the press release states,” per a May 2014 report on BeforeItsNews.com.
79. Consider using a disposable email.
A disposable email account is one created solely for a specific purpose that you’ll never use again or for any other account or purpose. “We live in a world where there are so many things that are disposable and email addresses can be added to that list. With the many free online email accounts that take just a few minutes to set up, it’s easy to create an email address that can be disposed of after it has served its purpose. There are many instances where such a disposable email will make sense. Examples include short-term projects, an email address specific to one online application (such as Facebook or Twitter,) for testing purposes, etc; basically, anytime you are unsure of the period of use, like when you decide to take on numerous free software trials,” GetApp explains.
80. Take advantage of secure mobile access options.
Some online services offer secure mobile access options, enabling users to access services without exposing login credentials. “Keep sensitive personal information and bank account numbers/passwords off your phone. Some banks offer secure mobile access without having to expose your account information or passwords,” says Bank of America.
81. Opt out of ad tracking.
An article on MakeUseOf addresses the issues that arise from ad tracking online: “Advertising is a huge business. We’ve written before about how online ads are used to target you and this goes even further with social media ads. You have to expect a level of this behavior while using the Internet, but there are ways to limit how much information is collected about you.”
82. Don’t save passwords in your browser.
Another useful tip from MakeUseOf, this advice suggests that the common practice of ‘remembering passwords’ in browsers is a dangerous practice. Indeed, should someone gain access to your computer or mobile device, they’d be able to easily access any accounts for which you’ve stored login credentials in your browser. While it may make logging in more convenient, it’s a risky habit in terms of data protection. “Keep an eye out for these pop-ups and be sure to deny them.
83. Use more than one email address for different contexts.
84. Create a dedicated email address for long-term projects.
85. Take stock of your digital footprint.
86. Don’t use social media credentials to register for or sign in on third-party sites.
It seems like a convenient option: Simply register for a website or online service using your Facebook or LinkedIn account, and as long as you’re signed in to that social network, signing in to the third-party site is fast and easy. Doing so can jeopardize your privacy, however. “Although it is a convenient option, signing into another account with your Facebook username and password can mean giving the other site all the information Facebook has gathered about you. Worse, if someone hijacks your social login information, they can also gain access to these third-party accounts,” explains ReputationDefender.
87. Be careful when searching in categories known for malware.
This is a difficult tip to adequately describe in a relatively small number of words, but use caution anytime you’re searching for any topic known for spam or malware. This often happens with extremely popular search topics, such as pharmaceuticals, celebrities, and adult-oriented content. Because so many people search for these topics, it’s easy for hackers to set up websites that are essentially fake, designed solely to elicit clicks and execute malicious files. “Googling your favorite celebrities can be a dangerous business if you don’t recognize the sites you are clicking on. Many Google results of famous celebrity names lead to infecting your PC with malware and viruses,” according to this article on PopSugar.
88. Don’t send passwords or account login credentials over public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
“Never, ever send account and password information over an open (unsecure) wireless connection. You are broadcasting to everyone within the radius of your wireless signal, which can be several hundred feet, all of your personal information and account information. They can use this to compromise your accounts (e.g. email, financial, system/application access), steal your identity, or commit fraud in your name,” warns the Office of the Chief Information Officer at The Ohio State University.
89. Store your most sensitive data locally.
Instead of backing up all your data in the cloud, particularly a cloud storage provider with security measures you’re not completely confident in, consider backing up your most sensitive information locally or on a removable storage device you can keep under tight wraps. “I doubt there’s such a thing as real privacy on the internet, so personally I wouldn’t trust storing my top secret files in the cloud. Call it paranoia, but identity theft is on the rise and I just don’t want to risk any of that. In any case, we probably don’t have to look at our most sensitive data through the cloud on a 24/7 basis. My advice is to keep only those files which you need to access frequently and avoid putting up documents containing passwords for your various online accounts or personally identifiable information (PII) such as your credit card numbers, national identification number, home address, etc. If you must include these information in your files, make sure to encrypt them before you upload,” says Michael Poh in an article on Hongkiat.
90. Regular password changes might not actually be necessary.
Frequent password changes has long been advice offered in security circles, but the practice’s efficacy has come into question in recent years. “Security expert Bruce Schneier points out that in most cases today attackers won’t be passive. If they get your bank account login, they won’t wait two months hanging around, but will transfer the money out of your account right away. In the case of private networks, a hacker might be more stealthy and stick around eavesdropping, but he’s less likely to continue to use your stolen password and will instead install backdoor access. Regular password changes won’t do much for either of those cases. (Of course, in both instances, it’s critical to change your password as soon as the security breach is found and the intruder blocked.),” says an article on NBC News.
91. Use an encrypted cloud service.
While cloud storage makes for an ideal backup solution, it can also be more prone to hackers if you’re not careful about the cloud services you choose. Victoria Ivey, in an article on CIO.com, suggests encrypting the data you store in the cloud or using a cloud provdier that encrypts your data for you. “There are some cloud services that provide local encryption and decryption of your files in addition to storage and backup. It means that the service takes care of both encrypting your files on your own computer and storing them safely on the cloud. Therefore, there is a bigger chance that this time no one — including service providers or server administrators — will have access to your files (the so called “zero-knowledge” privacy). Among such services are Spideroak and Wuala.
92. Choose a safe, reputable email provider.
Much like not all cloud storage providers are created equal, neither are email providers. Inc.com interviews Patrick Peterson, Patrick Peterson, the founder and CEO of San Mateo, California-based email security firm Agari, about data protection, password management, and choosing safe service providers. “Be sure yours provides proper security. ‘There’s been technology development that stops people from impersonating your ISP, your bank, or your travel site,” Peterson says. “You need to make sure your email provider uses technology like DMARC to stop that phishing. The good news is that Google does it, Yahoo does it, Microsoft supports it, AOL supports it, so if you’re on one of those, you’re on your way to minimizing your risk.
DATA PROTECTION FOLLOWING A DATA BREACH
93. Immediately change your passwords following a data breach.
If a company through which you have an account has suffered a data breach, immediately change your password. An article on ConsumerReports.org discusses the JPMorgan Chase data breach, offering tips for consumers to take steps to protect their data after a breach. “We still recommend online and mobile banking, because it allows you to watch your account in real time from almost anywhere. Yes, it’s now clear that Internet banking is not impervious to hacking, but ‘the convenience you get from banking digitally greatly supercedes any security risk,’ said Al Pascual, head of fraud and security research at Javelin Strategy and Research, a California-based financial services industry consulting firm. As part of your monitoring, watch out for changes to your debit card PIN.
94. Verify that a breach has, in fact, occurred.
There are many opportunists who use the likelihood of a data breach to trick unassuming consumers into actually handing over their passwords and other information, when a data breach hasn’t actually occurred. Before responding to any requests to update your login info through a link sent to you in an email, visit the company’s website by typing the URL into your address bar and confirming the breach occurred, or call the company to verify the information. “First, make sure that your card information has actually been compromised. If you receive a notification via email requesting ‘confirmation’ of your card information, don’t respond – it could be an opportunistic fraudster. Check the merchant’s website for news about a breach or reach out to customer support for details,” says the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA).
95. Request a new card, if applicable.
If a data breach has affected a company that has issued you a card, such as a bank-issued or retail store-issued credit card, cancel your existing card and request a new one. This action makes the previous card number invalid, so if it has been stolen by hackers, it is no longer usable and your finances are secure. “You may be able to do this through your issuer’s customer service department, or through the lost and stolen card department. Some companies will charge a small fee for a replacement card, but most will swap cards for you for free. When you request a new credit card, your old card and its number are destroyed. That means that if a thief tries to use your card in the future, the card will be declined. You will have to wait for the new card to arrive in the mail, so make sure you have money to pay for your purchases during this time,” says CT Watchdog.
96. Consider a credit freeze.
This is a major step, but one that can be especially helpful if you suspect or know your identity has been stolen. It’s possible to restrict access to your credit reports, meaning that thieves who are assuming your identity and attempting to open accounts in your name won’t be able to do so. “Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to look at your credit report before approving a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit. To place a freeze on your credit reports, contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You will need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10,” according to a Consumer Information article from the Federal Trade Commission.
97. Take advantage of free credit monitoring.
If a major corporation suffers a data breach and your account information has been compromised, the company may offer affected consumers with free credit monitoring services. “If your personal information is hacked, the company that was victimized will probably offer you credit monitoring. (Although a Chase bank spokeswoman told CNBC that credit monitoring would not be provided to customers affected by this week’s breach because no financial information was compromised.) If it does, go ahead and take it,” says Bob Sullivan in an article on CNBC.
98. Don’t ignore reports from friends about mysterious emails coming from your accounts.
One of the most common ways people learn they’ve been hacked is when their friends or family members report receiving an odd email or social media message, or even seeing strange updates posted on social media profiles. It’s easy to ignore these warnings and assume it’s some sort of fluke or someone who simply changed the “reply-to” when sending a spam email, but this is often a sure indicator that your account has been compromised. Don’t ignore these tips. According to Consumer Affairs, “Anytime you receive a new “friend” request from someone who’s already on your Facebook friends list, the simplest thing to do is send your real friend a message asking if they know about their apparent double.
99. Know the warning signs that your data has been breached or that you’ve been hacked.
There are many possible indications that an account has been hacked, your identity stolen, or your data breached in some other way. Educate yourself on the warning signs of a potential breach and create positive habits for monitoring your personal data security to identify potential attacks or breaches before they escalate to devastation. Read up on data protection tips (such as the guide you’re reading right now) and on information outlining the common warning signs of a data breach or hack, such as this list of “11 Sure Signs You’ve Been Hacked” from InfoWorld.
100. Regain control over your compromised accounts.
All too frequently, if one account has been hacked, your data is no longer secure on other accounts using the same login information, particularly if you use the same password for multiple services. “Regaining control of a hacked email account can be tougher. You’ll have to contact the email provider and prove that you’re the true account holder. Of course, if the hacker changes your password, you can’t use your regular email to contact the provider. It’s important to have more than one email address, and make each the alternate contact address for the other. Did you use your email address as a username on other sites? That’s certainly a common practice. But if you also used the same password that you used for the hacked email account, those accounts are now compromised as well. Even if you didn’t use the same password, you could still be in trouble. Think about this. If you forget a website password, what do you do? Right—you click to get a password reset link sent to your email address. A smart hacker who has control of the email account will quickly seek your other accounts, social media, perhaps, or worse, shopping and banking accounts,” explains Neil J. Rubenking in an article at PCMag.
101. Find out precisely why the breach or hack occurred.
If your account has been hacked, your data lost, or device stolen, consider it a learning opportunity. Find out exactly what went wrong and how you could have protected your data by taking better precautions. “While you are fixing things, it’s a good time to take a step back, and ask yourself a more basic question: What was the reason for the breach? If it was your bank account, the answer may be obvious. In other cases, such as e-mail, it can be for a host of reasons — from using it to send spam, to requesting money from your contacts, to getting password resets on other services. An attacker may even be trying to gain access to your business. Knowing why you were targeted can also sometimes help you understand how you were breached,” says Mat Honan at Wired.
How to Lead a Double Life Online and Not Get Caught
Updated Sep 30, 2013 The Internet allows us to form new identities and express controversial ideas without fear of personal reprisal. It allows us to explore interests that would be misunderstood by friends and family and discuss experiences that may damage our career.
There are many reasons to want to create a pseudonymous identity online. You may have undergone a traumatic experience you don’t feel comfortable talking about in public. You may be the head of a stuffy art museum, but love writing Doctor Who fan-fiction. You may want to write a scandalous tell-all blog. Or you may be a rabid democrat living in an extremely-conservative small town. You may just find it liberating to be freed from the biases society holds against your offline life or background.
The first step is to begin using Tor. Tor is a free browser that obscures your IP address by using onion proxy software that provides multi-layer encryption. While not tied to you, personally, your IP address is associated with your individual computer, hence a skilled individual may use your IP address to discover your offline identity. This is why it is important to not rely on services like Chrome’s incognito mode to attempt to live your double life online; while it will prevent websites from storing things on your computer, it will not hide your IP address.
To download the Tor Browser Bundle, which includes everything you need to browse the net anonymously, visit Tor’s website and follow their instructions (also read up on using Tor properly- there are some things you can do using Tor that might still reveal your identity if you are not careful). You should use Tor Browser for all of your secret online activities. It may run a bit slower (as your interactions with other sites are bounced through at least three relays), but it is better to be safe and slow than speedy and sorry.
Use Tor for regular activities as well. This mitigates risk associated with others noticing your browser choice. When questioned about Tor, simply say you use Tor Browser because of concerns about privacy, which have been exacerbated because of this year’s revelations about the NSA.
How to Lay the Foundation of Your Double Life Most online accounts require an email address. It should go without saying that you should not be using your personal email address when doing anything related to your pseudonymous identity. Instead, you should create a separate email that has no connection to your normal identity and is only used in connection to your covert activities.
I recommend using a free service such as Hushmail, Gmail, or Riseup.net to create this account rather than Yahoo or Hotmail, as the latter options include the IP address of the computer used to send a particular message. While this matters less when you are using Tor, you may still find yourself in a situation in which you need to check that account without the browser’s protection, hence more secretive email providers are better.
Tips on Developing Sound and Secretive Habits With Tor Browser and a designated email account, you are free to live out your double life- so long as you do so carefully.
Never ever use a work computer for secretive activities. I don’t care how encrypted your work communications are. Company-owned computers are not to be trusted. Keylogging software, which will make all of your careful precautions amount to nothing, is only one of many potential complications.
Avoid using mobile devices. They can be lost. They can be stolen. Strangers (or worse yet, friends, family, and colleagues) can more easily look over your shoulder or snatch your device out of your hands. If you must conduct some of your double life through a mobile device, make sure it is password protected, only use it in private spaces, and bolster it with additional privacy protections, which, for the sake of brevity, I recommend you find independently.
If your double life involves posting content (e.g. blog posts about your secret ventures as an undercover nun), schedule your posts (many blogging platforms offer this functionality) so that they are published at random intervals that cannot be associated with a specific time zone or lifestyle. Do not tag photos, posts, or tweets with your location.
Important Identifying Information to Hide Obvious information that might be used to determine who you are (eg. your name or the names of people in your life, your personal email address, identifying photos. etc.) is but a small factor to consider. Most secret identities are discovered by those who use more subtle hints to piece together your personal puzzle.
Don’t give away hints by even letting your pseudonym resemble your real name. If your name is John Doe, your online handle should be entirely different, like Shane Kugel (and not J.D. or Shawn Moe). Be extremely careful about mentioning employers in a manner that would enable the casual viewer to narrow your real employer down to a couple of candidates (e.g. “I work for a pet grooming salon in San Francisco, California”). Also be mindful with regard to any habits, sayings, or possessions you might mention (e.g. a storm trooper figurine kept at your desk) that could be identified by those who know you in real life.
If you maintain a website, make your WHOIS information private. If you do not, everything from your name to your email, phone number, and address may show up in WHOIS queries (just search for your friends’ domains to get an idea of the information that might be revealed). Subscribe to The Morning Email. Wake up to the day’s most important news.
Should you be involved in commerce, opt for trades whenever possible. Gift cards might be a convenient form of currency, so long as you keep the value of transactions below $500. Generally speaking, money is difficult to keep anonymous online- even when Bitcoin is used.
The Importance Leaving No Trace Whenever you finish a session of secretive internet activity, your computer should be devoid of damning information. While it helps that you are using Tor, it is also important that you delete any files from your computer related to your pseudonymous identity (e.g. drafts of blog posts, photos, etc.) before you get up and walk away.
You never know who might poke around your desktop when you aren’t looking, and you would be surprised by how many friends and family members know the passwords to their loved ones’ machines.
Good Luck! This brief guide is an introduction, not a comprehensive playbook. Its recommended tactics will help you avoid major mistakes and may accommodate “harmless” double lives, but if you are involved in some serious whistle blowing activity, fighting against a totalitarian government, or are threatening to take down a beloved member of 4Chan, you’re playing an entirely different ballgame.
If you’d rather not have the government, hackers, your internet service provider, or anyone else potentially intercepting and reading your private communications, you should make sure you’re using a secure messaging app. Specifically, one that uses encrypted messaging.
As you’ve probably noticed (unless you live under a rock, which is slowly sounding more and more like the way to go) internet privacy has become one of the hottest topics of the decade. In 2017, the United States Congress repealed regulations that would help protect your data from being sold by broadband and wireless companies. In 2016, the UK’s Parliament passed the Investigatory Power Act (also known as the Snooper’s Charter), which expands the surveillance power of the UK Intelligence Community and police. And in 2018, Australia forced famous messaging app WhatsApp to include spyware so they could see what you’re typing. Not to mention what’s going on in the news right now concerning privacy. If you aren’t already worried, now is a pretty good time to start wondering just how safe your online communications actually are, and what the most secure messaging app is.
What makes a messaging app secure?
An encrypted messaging app has something more important than cool widgets and a gigantic library of emojis: it has features that work quietly in the background to make sure the app is secure.
The main thing to check for when choosing a messaging app is whether or not it uses end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption means your private chat messages are scrambled, and only the sender and the receiver of the messages have the “keys” to read them. This ensures that no one besides you and the person you’re talking to can decipher the messages.
Ironically, encryption used to be thought of as something only used by the paranoid or those with a compelling need for secrecy, such as political dissidents. It was only after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked classified documents revealing the U.S. NSA’s global surveillance program that the world began to fully understand the importance of encryption and online privacy. Since then, many companies (including Facebook, Apple, and Google) have ramped up encryption on their software.
Default encryption settings
Just because an app offers end-to-end encryption, doesn’t mean that it’s the default setting. Some messaging apps require you to go into the app’s settings and actually turn on the encryption feature, while others only encrypt messages in certain scenarios (for instance, blue iMessages versus green text messages). Because the importance of encryption is still relatively new, many people may just assume the app is safe without knowing if or when their messages are encrypted — so look for one that has encryption on as the default for you and whomever you’re messaging.
Open source code
While fears of reverse-engineering or code backdoors may make it seem counterintuitive for an app maker to reveal an app’s source code, doing so is now widely regarded as an indicator of the app’s integrity. Open source code opens the app up to outside accountability and auditing by experts, which can be a useful way to bring attention to any weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the code.
While many messaging apps today have started using end-to-end encryption, some still collect data information about you, called metadata. Metadata is kind of like your electronic fingerprint, and includes data such as who you talk to (via your contacts list), for how long, and at what time, as well as information about the device you use, your IP address, phone number, and more. Setting up a VPN app on your mobile device is an easy way to block the collection of this kind of personal information. Both AVG Secure VPN for Android and AVG Secure VPN for iOS are available to help you seamlessly protect your online privacy.
Try AVG Secure VPN for Android
What are the most secure messaging apps for Android & iPhone?
Originally known as TextSecure Private Messenger, Signal has been touted as the gold standard of messaging security by cryptographer Bruce Schneier, Edward Snowden, US congress, and even the European Commission. Available as a free messaging app on iPhone and Android phones, as well as desktops, Signal sends messages across its own data infrastructure.
Signal security features
Messages sent via the Signal app can only be viewed by the sender and receiver. Not even the company behind the app, Open Whisper Systems, can decrypt the messages. In addition to instant messages, you can also make voice calls, group messages, and encrypted video calls.
Signal has open source code that can be viewed by anyone. This kind of transparency allows for routine auditing and helps ensure that the app’s security is always up to date.
For extra security, Signal allows you to make both sent and received messages “disappear” after a certain amount of time has elapsed.
Minimal data storageUnlike many other messaging apps, Signal only stores the metadata required for the app to work, such as your phone number, random keys, and profile information.
Password security The app also allows you to set a password to lock it. So even if your phone falls into the wrong hands, your messages will still be protected.
Signal security risks
The best thing about Signal is that there are virtually no security risks. As long as the app’s developers continue to be diligent about fixing vulnerabilities, Signal will remain at the top of the messaging app food chain.
2. Wickr Me
Available on both iPhone and Android, Wickr has distinguished itself from the pack by offering secure messaging options for both personal use (Wickr Me) and for businesses and enterprises (Wickr Pro). While Wickr Me is free, Wickr Pro is a paid service that comes with a 30-day free trial.
Wickr Me security features
In addition to encrypted messaging, in 2018 Wickr announced that its “Me” service will also offer encrypted calling and voice messaging (which are already offered in the Pro version).
Wickr recently announced that they will be offering a new feature that allows users to detect screenshots. This means that you will receive a notification if someone takes a screenshot of a message you send.
Screen overlay protection
On Android devices, Wickr has released a new feature that allows users to disable “Screen Overlays”. This prevents users from being able to interact with the app when an overlay is detected, and helps protect the app from Tap Jacking.
Third party keyboards
On iOS, Wickr lets you block Third Party Keyboards. This helps protect your information by preventing third party keyboards from recording usernames, passwords, and other information that is typed into the app.
This feature adds an extra layer of security by making sure your already deleted files can’t be recovered with special tools or technology. While Wickr does this for you periodically, you also have the option to manually erase information from your phone.
Wickr Me security risks
Like Signal, Wickr is generally considered almost foolproof from a security standpoint. Though it was previously criticized for keeping its code closed source, in 2017 Wickr finally released its cryptographic protocol on Github. If you feel like getting technical about the app’s security, you can check out Wickr’s Customer Security Promises.
Formerly known as Cyber Dust, Mark Cuban’s brainchild messaging app Dust is available on both iOS and Android. The main purpose of the app is to send private messages (or photos and videos) called “Dusts” to your contacts that “turn to dust” and disappear within 100 seconds of being read. “Blasts” are another type of message that can be sent to a group of people, but are read privately. Finally, you can start group chats, simply known as “Groups.”
Dust security features
Dust uses “heavy encryption,” although the code is not actually available for viewing. You can send encrypted text, photo, or video messages, but the app does not allow for voice or video calls.
No permanent storage
Not only are your messages not permanently saved on your phone or the company’s servers (instead they’re sent to the app’s RAM memory until they are accessed by the receiver), you can also erase your messages off of other people’s devices.
If a screenshot is attempted on an Android phone, the name of the person who sent the message is removed, effectively eliminating context from the conversation. Apple prevents apps from blocking screenshots, so instead, iPhone users receive a notification if someone takes a screenshot of their sent message.
Messages are automatically erased either within 24 hours, or as soon as they’re read. You can choose.
Dust security risks
There are currently no significant security risks associated with Dust, aside from the potential risks and lack of transparency related to the app’s code not being open source.
With over 300 million daily users, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps being used today. The app’s popularity is definitely one of its strong points, along with the fact that it’s available for free on both iPhone and Android and doesn’t show any ads. You can easily send text messages, photos, as well as short video and voice messages. But are WhatsApp chats private?
WhatsApp security features
In April 2016, WhatsApp implemented a super secure encryption protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems (the company behind secure messaging app Signal) across all mobile platforms. Thanks to this protocol, only the sender and receiver have the keys to decrypt messages sent via WhatsApp, meaning they can’t be accessed and read by anyone else. Voice and video calls are also encrypted.
WhatsApp also has a “Verify Security Code” screen in the contact info screen that allows you to confirm that your calls and messages are end-to-end encrypted. The code is presented as both a QR code and a 60-digit number.
An optional feature, two-step verification allows you to add more security to your account by setting a PIN number that is required to verify your phone number on any device.
Messages not stored
The only time your message is kept on a WhatsApp server is the period after you send it and before it is delivered to the receiver. If it can’t be delivered for some reason, then the message is deleted from the server after 30 days.
WhatsApp Security risks
WhatsApp messages can’t be intercepted during transmission, but what about message backups on iCloud or Google Drive? The good news for iPhone users is that WhatsApp added encryption protection to iCloud backups in late 2016. But Android phone messages backed up on Google Drive are not encrypted, leaving them potentially vulnerable to hackers, governments that could legally force Google to turn over your messages, or even Google itself. So how can you protect your privacy on WhatsApp as an Android user? Fortunately, you can disable WhatsApp message backups on Google Drive.
Facebook privacy issues
WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, transferring concerns about the social media conglomerate’s reputation for invasive data collection to the messaging app. While Facebook assures users that there is no possible way for them to view encrypted WhatsApp messages, WhatsApp did announce that they would be sharing user metadata with Facebook, for various purposes such as ad-targeting.
Claiming over 200 million users on both iPhone and Android, Telegram has been steadily growing in popularity since its debut in 2013 and is known for its unique group chat feature that can support up to 100,000 members. Earlier in 2018, however, a clash with the Russian government over the app makers’ refusal to hand over the encryption keys resulted in it being banned in Russia entirely. Telegram has also been viewed as controversial because of its status as the preferred messaging app of ISIS. This has further driven the conversation about what responsibility messaging apps have to work with law-enforcement versus keeping user data fully protected.
Telegram security features
Telegram offers a feature called “Secret Chat” that allows you to protect your messages with end-to-end encryption. However, the feature is not default, so you’ll need to know how to turn it on.
You can set a 4-digit code to prevent intruders from accessing your messages, which can be useful if your phone gets lost or stolen.
Found in Settings, two-step verification requires you to use both an SMS code and a password (be sure you know what not to do when creating a password) to log in to the app. You can also set up a recovery email address in case you forget your password).
Open source code
Anyone can check Telegram’s source code, protocol, and API to make sure it is up to par.
Telegram Cracking Contest
Telegram challenges “hackers” to attempt to break through their encryption and decipher messages, offering a $300,000 reward for anyone who is able to do so. This helps ensure that any potential vulnerabilities will be found and fixed.
Like many other messaging apps, Telegram also offers a Self-Destruct Timer (for Secret Chats only) that will delete private text messages and media within a preset time limit.
Because you can log into Telegram from numerous devices at the same time (web, PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.), the app offers the ability to log out of other sessions from the current device you’re using through the Settings menu. This way, if your device is lost or stolen, you can still make sure your messages are secure.
After your account has been inactive for a certain amount of time (six months being the default), your account will automatically self-destruct, completely wiping clean all of your messages and media.
Telegram security risks
End-to-end encryption isn’t default
You must manually enable Telegram’s “Secret Chat” feature, otherwise chats are only encrypted between your device and Telegram’s server.
Logging chat data
If you don’t enable the Secret Chat feature, then your chat data is saved on Telegram’s servers. The company claims this is in case you lose your device and want to recover your messages, but from a security standpoint, this is a big no-no.
Possibly flawed encryption technology
Telegram created its own MTProto protocol, instead of using one that is already proven secure, such as the Signal protocol. Many experts have questioned the reasoning behind this, and have expressed skepticism about the lack of transparency surrounding the protocol.
6. Apple iMessage
The instant messaging service developed by Apple Inc., iMessage is supported by the Messenger application on iOS version 5.0 and later. Allowing users to send text, documents, videos, photos, contact information, and group messages over the internet, iMessage is very popular among iPhone users (and can only be used between them). We’ve already gone over tips on how to keep your iPhone safe, but is iMessage actually secure?
iMessage security features
iMessage end-to-end encryption only protects messages between iPhone users (which appear in blue). If you send a message to an Android user for instance, the message is sent as a normal text message (in green) and is not encrypted. Unlike many of the other apps on this list, it seems like Apple won’t be coming out with iMessage for Android. Though iMessage doesn’t directly allow for video or voice calls, its sister app FaceTime does (with encrypted protection).
Many iMessage users are unaware that the app provides a feature that allows you to control how long each photo, video, or message will appear before it’s gone. You can also choose how many times the viewer can see the message. However, the feature is only available with iOS 10 and later.
iMessages deleted from servers
Your encrypted messages only remain on Apple’s servers for 7 days before they are deleted.
iMessage security risks
In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins University revealed a flaw with Apple’s encryption implementation that could leave iMessages vulnerable to decryption. Later, in 2019, researchers from Project Zero presented 6 high-level exploits that allowed them to use iMessages to take over a user’s device. All these issues were quickly patched, but it does imply the risk of other, unknown vulnerabilities lurking in the code.
If you back up your iMessages to iCloud, these messages are encrypted on iCloud using a key controlled by the company, not you. This means that, if your iCloud is hacked or subpoenaed by a court, they could be revealed. And while Apple has been firm about not creating “back doors” into their system or weakening encryption, they and other tech companies do have a history of cooperating with authorities when it comes to turning over information stored in the Cloud.
7. Facebook Messenger
Facebook’s messaging app is available for both iPhone and Android phones, and provides a convenient way to keep up with friends and family thanks to its sheer popularity.
Facebook Messenger security features
In 2016, Facebook added its Secret Conversations feature to secure messages with the Signal end-to-end encryption protocol (also used by WhatsApp). However, Signal and WhatsApp have end-to-end encryption by default, while Secret Conversations must be activated.
You can set Facebook Messenger messages to self-destruct after a certain period of time (between five seconds and 24 hours).
Facebook Messenger security risks
Encryption not by default
As mentioned above, end-to-end encryption for messages must be activated by the user. This means that messages sent without this feature are only encrypted when sent to Facebook’s server, and then encrypted again when sent to the recipient (whereas end-to-end is directly between sender and recipient). This means a copy of the message remains on Facebook’s servers.
Ever since Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, concerns about Facebook’s data collection overreach have only intensified, causing many to wonder how they can protect their personal data while on Facebook. To make matters worse, news broke in 2018 that Facebook has been collecting information about the calls and texts of its Android users through a permission that allows the app to import their phone contacts. And then they were caught doing it again a year later. There’s plenty of reasons to doubt the safety and privacy of Facebook Messenger.
App to avoid: Google Hangouts
Despite being available for free on both iOS and Android, Google Hangouts is riddled with privacy and security concerns. Though it does encrypt hangout conversations, it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption — instead, messages are encrypted “in transit”. This means that they are only encrypted between your device and Google’s servers. Once they are on a server, Google has complete access to them. If ordered to do so, Google can tap into private communication sessions and relay that information to government agencies. And with Google’s Transparency Reportrevealing that the company does indeed receive and often fulfill requests for customer information, this is a very real concern.
Additionally, images sent via Hangouts are shared through public URLs, meaning that virtually anyone (who knows a thing or two about URLs) can view your private images. This is definitely not the app you should be using to send…sensitive…pics.
How can I stay safe?
We believe everyone has a right to online privacy, and deserves to message their friends and family without worrying about who might be sneaking a peak. In an ideal world, everyone would be using super secure messaging apps like Signal or Wickr to communicate. But with the popularity of less secure or privacy-questionable apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, sometimes the middle ground is more convenient. If you do choose to use a less secure messaging app, pair it with VPN protection. A virtual private network encrypts everything you do online, including messaging as well as other tasks that may expose your sensitive personal info like online shopping and banking. We offer AVG Secure VPN for iOS and AVG Secure VPN for Android to keep your information safe.