Mobile (phone/tablet) considerations
The NSA (along with affiliates and competitors) collects text messages
and tracks who you're calling, if not the actual contents of voice calls. There are apps that can help protect your privacy:
Signal Private Messenger
Signal Private Messenger
(provides good encryption in Android currently, and hopefully soon in the iOS version)
Keep your software and operating system up to date.
For Windows, there is software like Secunia PSI
or Filehippo's Update Checker
. Most apps these days auto-update. If they do, let them. Make sure windows update runs automatically unless you're savvy enough and have reason to inspect every update.
Make SURE that [Adobe Flash] Player, [Adobe] Acrobat, and [Oracle] Java are up to date. They should auto-update by default. If you haven't seen any indications of them trying to update, make sure they are, or you could be running old versions with security vulnerabilities that can lead to malware infections just from browsing the web. If you don't need it—and you probably don't—make sure the java browser plugin is disabled in your browser.
Browser Market Share stats
I strongly advise using either Firefox or Google Chrome. They automatically update, they have lots of extensions and plugins available, and they are relatively hassle-free.
The trade-off is that Chrome has excellent security sandboxing for plugins, a hardened built-in Flash viewer, and (process-based) tab isolation. Firefox does not, but on the other hand it has a much more anti-tracker, pro-privacy philosophy. Basically, Chrome is better for security (as in not getting malware or becoming a victim of malicious websites), while Firefox is better for privacy (as in not allowing websites to track or profile you as well, and giving you more powerful extensions to protect your privacy in advanced ways).
Windows XP (as of April, 2014) is no longer supported by Microsoft, except for specific organizations that have extended support contracts with Microsoft. If you're using XP outside of that kind of umbrella, stop now, it's not secure
. IE8 (the last version supported on XP) is going to accumulate performance, security, and compatibility problems. If you have to continue using XP personally for some reason, don't use IE. Install Chrome or Firefox, either of which offers better protection against malware and better support for modern websites, until you can get rid of XP, which you should still do ASAP.
To enable TLS 1.1/1.2 in IE (specifically needed in IE 8-10 on win7/win8), open IE, go to Tools (gear icon), then Internet Options, and then select the Advanced tab. Scroll down to the bottom and make sure the boxes for TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 are selected. They should be enabled by default in IE11, but double check using that same procedure. I don't think IE on either XP or Vista supports TLS above 1.0. To solve that problem, upgrade to windows 7 or 8, or to a mac, or to linux.
To protect against malicious Flash videos: In Chrome, go to the config menu, (top, far right), "Settings", scroll to bottom, click "show advanced settings", click "Content Settings", scroll down to the Plug-ins section, and select "Click to play". If you run into a site that doesn't work properly without flash, and you trust the site, on the right side of the URL bar there will be a puzzle piece logo (right next to the favorite-site Star). Click on the puzzle icon, and you should see options to allow plugins once, or every time you visit that particular site.
In Firefox, use flashblock (browser extension) or noscript (which is more comprehensive, see below for link).
Recommended extensions (you can find them by googling the browser name and the extension name together):
- µBlock (for Chrome or Firefox)
- Self-Destructing Cookies (firefox)
- Vanilla Cookie Manager (chrome (less capable but same sort of thing as FF's self-destructing cookies)
- HTTPS Everywhere (firefox - get the stable version) caution: can cause problems with some sites, so don't use if you mind having to tweak the settings for individual sites
Advanced SSL-management extensions: CertPatrol
Access to your email account allows password resets for most sites you register with. It's imperative that you try to keep your email account secure. [b]Don't reuse your email account password(s) or banking password(s). If you've reused your email password somewhere else, and that "somewhere else" site gets hacked, and the attacker gets your password from it, they can now login to your email account. Since access to your email account allows resetting your passwords at most other sites (including ecommerce sites), it's critical that you take email account passwords as seriously as you take banking or financial information.
Most email providers also now provide 2-factor authentication. It might be codes sent via SMS to your phone, or a code or 2d barcode you scan into an app on your phone that can then, without using SMS, generate codes you type in in addition to your username and password.
Gmail, Hotmail/Outlook.com, and Yahoo all now support SSL encryption by default. If you use some email provider for your main email account, particularly if it's an older email service, make sure it supports TLS/SSL. If it doesn't, seriously consider switching email providers. Without SSL, the NSA is literally guaranteed to be reading all of your email, and so can less sophisticated hackers if you're on public wifi or an untrusted network connection.
***What do email scams look like?***
Example of an Email Scam
If you receive an email like that, the sender's
email account has been hacked.
Make sure your email account has recovery options (usually an alternate email -- make sure you take the security of the alternate account seriously, too! -- or a mobile number for using SMS to recover the account, or a recovery code -- Hotmail/Outlook.com offers those. Print recovery codes if they're offered, and put them in your bank safe deposit box. That's in case you lose your password and your phone (for 2-factor), or if the account gets hacked and you need a way to prove you're the real owner.
Gmail, Outlook.com, and many other sites offer the option of 2-factor authentication. What that means is that, when logging into the site, you enter your password and then a random several-digit number. Some sites send a text message with the code, which is better than nothing, but doesn't work if you don't have cell service. The better sites use a standard called TOTP, which allows offline generation of 6-digit codes that are unique for each user account on each site and change every 30 seconds.
It's highly recommended to get a TOTP-compatible app and set it up for your important sites (including email) if you can understand it well enough to set it up. 2-factor authentication (2FA) means stealing your password is not enough anymore; a hacker has to steal your password and hack (or physically steal) your phone as well.
Duo Security's Android app
No need to use Duo's service; it stores standard 2-factor tokens the same as Google's app
Duo Security's iOS app
again, no need to use Duo's proprietary service.
Instructions for setting up 2-factor with google accounts
Google's 2-factor authentication app unfortunately lacks the ability to reorder accounts on Android. The iOS version
allows rearranging though, for some reason. Stick with Duo's app on Android. I'd prefer Google's app on iOS unless I needed support for Duo's proprietary service.
Authy's 2-factor app works and is TOTP compatible, but I don't like the fact that it saves backups to the cloud, even though they're encrypted.
Authenticator for Windows Phone
Password security is beyond the scope of this post, since TFL is not a very critical site. Password management is important because, if you're not reusing passwords between sites, you will have a ton of passwords, more than most people can be expected to remember. Password management applications include KeePass (KeePass1, KeePass2, KeePassX, KeePassDroid -- all free, but if you use multiple computers or devices you have to ensure compatibility between the different clients (KeePass1/KeePassX clients won't work with KeePass2 password files) and you have to set up syncing yourself. Syncing is important even if you only use one browser, because if your computer dies or your home burns down, you need a copy of your password database stored "in the cloud" to recover. Every good password management app encrypts the password database, so if you're using a good master password for your password database, and take steps to keep your computer secure against malware, the risk of storing your master password database "in the cloud" is relatively small.
Commercial options, which may or may not be ideal, but are easier to use, include LastPass (some features free for desktop use, mobile client costs $12/yr), 1Password (costs $).
Virus and Malware protection:
+ Microsoft Security Essentials
is free and pretty good. Antivirus software is a poor substitute for good security practices (keeping your browser and Flash Player and your Operating System up to date, using ad blockers and enabling hacked site filters in your browser if it has that option).
If you suspect an infestation in Windows, running multiple scanners means the best chance of catching the malware. Here are some commonly recommended tools:
Other Security Measures
This is not for the faint of heart, but, for Windows, Microsoft provides software called the Microsoft Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit [EMET]
, which uses several techniques to try to prevent malware from exploiting security problems in applications. It theoretically might cause problems for some applications, so if you experience strange problems with any program with EMET enabled, disable EMET features for that application before trying anything else.
There are some miscellaneous security-related (and some not-so-security-related) links at software tools and sites
in the TFL library.
are a good idea if you're serious about security; the idea is to run stuff like web browsers or other untrusted programs in a VM sandbox
(using software like VirtualBox
) (or Xen or KVM for the technically inclined), to keep any malware you may pick up isolated to that VM. Snapshots make it even better. If you're paranoid, check out http://qubes-os.org
Like general password management, beyond the scope of this post, but put some thought into it. What happens if your entire computer gets fried? What happens if your house gets demolished by a falling defunct satellite (while you aren't home, hopefully)?
Here's a video on two of the more popular options, Backblaze and Crashplan:
This is not a recommendation that everyone should get a new computer. However, if you find yourself with a decade-old desktop and you're not sure where to go from here—maybe you even still run Windows XP—and you don't have any specific needs other than a general productivity machine, take a look at these (as of January 2016):
(nuc6i3syh - i3 skylake cpu, $299)
(nuc6i5syh - i5 skylake cpu, $399)
They are both small, silent, and have onboard video (displayport output, can be converted to DVI or HDMI). All that's required is memory (note that they take laptop memory), and disk. If your old computer has a 2.5" ssd, you can use that, though you might need to reinstall or reconfigure the OS since it might not appreciate being given new hardware—Windows tends to be finicky that way. If you have an old 3.5" spinning disk, you might want to switch to SSDs since they're much much faster. Samsung and Intel are good SSD brands. If you insist on 3.5" spinning disks, they won't fit inside. I suspect the NUCs allow booting from external drive via usb3, but I haven't tested it. If they do, put your old 3.5" disk in a USB3 enclosure (make sure you get one with a fan—spinning disks do not like heat, and putting them in an enclosure without a fan, though the silence might be nice, substantially increases the chance of disk failure) and boot off that external disk. Same caveat about the OS applies. Windows may throw a fit about the new hardware and be either difficult or impossible to use without reinstalling.
An i7 (true quad-core) NUC is allegedly arriving in late Q1 2016, and some other manufacturers are making similar things, but they'll probably all have fans. If you're not doing anything heavy-duty, you're better off with the cheaper 2-core i3 or i5. The older (broadwell) cpus in the nuc5i* models are acceptable to save some money, but I wouldn't recommend them. Skylake's integrated graphics supports hardware decode of h.265 video, and partial hardware decode of vp9 video. If you want to minimize the risk of video lag or frame dropping, the price premium of the latest nuc6i* models over the earlier nuc5i* models will probably pay off.