Achieving Internet Simplicity

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2014 has so far been a year of cyber security headlines.

Massive data breaches and hacks have occurred on what seems like a bi-weekly basis, and new revelations of governmentally funded intrusions seem to spring up just as quick. As this article is being written, the tech-headlines read that Vodafone allows the government to tap its communication systems. By the time this article is completed, another, equally panicked headline will undoubtedly emerge.

Many choose to tune out all the cyber-panic-noise. Some even go as far as ignoring cyberspace completely – and in truth, that is probably the most effective approach to cyber security of all.

Don’t want to worry about being hacked?

Then don’t go on the Internet. Simple as that. It may sound extreme, but some people do indeed live this way. They don’t fuss about Heartbleed, and they don’t run home from work to change their eBay password as soon as they possibly can when they hear about a massive breach. They simply don’t use computers, and they are fine.

Not using the Internet works quite well in terms of online protection – but if you are reading this article, chances are about 100% that this approach will not work for you. So, then, what will?

Here at Emsisoft, we think the answer for most everyday users is Internet Simplicity.

Internet Simplicity as a Mindset

For modern-day people living in a hyper-connected world, not going on the Internet at all would seem modern-day lunacy. For many working professionals, it would also be logistically impossible. Nevertheless, Internet Simplicity is still an achievable state and by no means an absolute one. You can make your Internet experience simpler, and as a result more private and secure, simply by reducing the number of “moving parts” in your “Internet system.”

One need not be a computer scientist or physicist to appreciate this logic – though many from such professions have expanded upon the topic of chaos at length. When it comes to Internet security, less can in fact be more; that is, if you are careful about what you remove and what you retain.

Internet Simplicity Techniques

Shed Some Layers

goldfishFirst things first: take a step back and look at everything you do on the web.

Consider how many profiles you may have created at who-knows how many websites, and think about all of the information you have shared when you created each one. Then, think about everything you may have done with each website, be it anonymous observation, personal communication, photo/video sharing, or financial transaction. Then, see if you can remember each username and password for each website. If you can do this last part off the top of your head, your Internet identity is probably insecure.

Anyone who can remember all of their usernames and passwords either a) already has very little interaction with the web, b) has an outstanding memory, or c) is reusing usernames and passwords that are probably easy to remember and therefore weak.

If you fall under category C – which, let’s be honest, most of us will – the first thing you can do to remedy your situation is get rid of some of those accounts. This may take some time, but in the long run it is totally worth it. Chances are that many of your online accounts have fallen to disuse, but that doesn’t mean that the personal data you have stored on them has disappeared. Disused accounts with weak passwords are open doors for hackers. To close these doors, simply delete the accounts you don’t need, or change their passwords to something more secure.

After you have “shed some layers,” there will simply be less of you available on the web to steal. Once you have done this, you could then consider using a password management application like KeePass to help consolidate your digital credentials. If, however, you’ve shed enough accounts, you will not need one. There is always also the trusty pencil and paper technique.

But Keep Some Layers Too

Ok, so you know how we just said to shed some layers? You’re going to want to keep some layers and maybe even add some layers too. This doesn’t mean adding more Internet entryways, though. It means increasing the complexity of your “lock.”

If that last paragraph seems a bit cryptic, well, then, that’s entirely fitting for a conversation about security. But consider the following:

  • Do you use your real name on your Facebook, Twitter, or Google + profile?
  • Do you maintain a “buffer” email?
  • Do you have two factor authentication enabled on accounts that allow it?
  • Do you minimize Ecommerce risk by placing an extra layer – such as PayPal or a credit card – between the merchant’s website and your cash?

All of these little extra layers are simple ways to enhance your online privacy and security, and none of them require any specific technical prowess at all.

Follow Brian Krebs 3 Basic Rules for Online Safety

After you have begun the process of shedding online accounts that you don’t need, and adding a few simple layers to your online lock, you should extend this process to all of the applications that are installed on your computer. Internet security expert, Brian Krebs, outlines this process best with his 3 Basic Rules:

  1. If you didn’t go looking for it, don’t install it!
  2. If you installed it, update it.
  3. If you no longer need it, remove it.

Much like any online user account, any application that is installed on your computer and that connects to the Internet is a potential doorway into your PC. These doorways open when an application has a vulnerability, or a flaw in its code that can be exploited by a hacker to gain remote access to your PC. Some applications have more vulnerabilities than others, and it is generally wise to be careful about what you eat.

Limiting the amount of apps you use on your PC also has the added benefit of increasing system performance. This goes for legitimate applications that are simply superfluous to what you need to get done when you go on your PC as well as Potentially Unwanted Programs – a most devious class of applications that wastes space and that can dismantle your personal privacy by sharing information with money hungry third parties, or worse.

Respect Your Computer

If you are really worried about malware, and want to go above and beyond in terms of protection, then you can simply avoid behaviors linked to malware infection. For example, if you are using a computer to run your business, only use that computer for business related tasks and isolate it on a firewall.  Get your Internet entertainment on a different computer entirely. Not only will you be safer from malware, you will probably find that you’re more productive too.

Internet Simplicity Tools

stone_wheelThis year’s increased attention on Internet security has no doubt produced an increased demand in Internet Security products. Once again, however, these products aren’t much good if they are overly complicated and difficult to use. More than enhanced Internet Security solutions, people want simplicity. In response, many companies are providing just that.

Here at Emsisoft, our response to Internet Simplicity demand is agreement. PCs are tools, the Internet is a means of connecting these tools, and these tools and this connection work best when things are kept simple and clean. More than agreement, however, we have been working on a simplified product: Emsisoft Anti-Malware 9.0. This new offering features our most user friendly interface yet, and it has been streamlined for seamless integration with Windows 8 & 8.1. For end users, this means ease of use without sacrificing protection and without needing an overly complex mechanism running on your machine.

But we’re not the only ones who have adopted Internet Simplicity.

Companies across the web are jumping complexity’s ship and swimming to Simplicity’s shore. After you have versed yourself in the techniques outlined above – removing what you don’t need, and keeping what you should – we recommend checking out some of the latest developments in securing a simpler web.

Google Mail End-to-End Encryption

Announced in early June, End-to-End will attempt to simplify email encryption between Gmail and non-Gmail accounts. According to Google’s latest Transparency Report, roughly 65% of email sent from Gmail accounts to accounts hosted by other email providers is not encrypted; and, roughly 50% of email sent from accounts hosted by other email providers to Gmail is not encrypted either.

DuckDuckGo Search Engine

As much as Google strives towards simplicity and transparency, many users have setbacks about the way the corporation tracks user Internet usage for profit. In response, a new breed of “privacy-centric” search engines have emerged. The current leader of this pack is DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo has been around for some time, but in a year where Internet privacy issues have become routine headlines, the service provider has attracted considerably more attention. In addition to privacy, many users also prefer its simplified search engine.

The Onion Router Network, or “Tor”

Though not the simplest application from a how it works perspective, Tor has come a long way in terms of user friendliness. Originally a research project headed by the U.S. Navy, Tor is now a downloadable Internet browser package that requires no more technical competence to use than Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome. As an added perk, Tor also ensures complete Internet anonymity – see more about Tor here.

Bottom Line – Security Should Be Simple

The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.

–Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google

Even if there were no malware and if online crime did not exist, the Internet would still be one of these most complicated creations you deal with on a daily basis.  Having to think (and worry) about Internet Security every time you go on the web does not help this situation at all. Furthermore, if the Internet is part of your daily workflow, you have probably at some point or another realized just how difficult it is to remain paranoid and efficient at the exact same time.

Security in all realms does its job best when you don’t even know its doing it. This is not to say that quality security systems let the bad guys through, but rather that quality security systems take care of the bad guys quietly, so as not to disturb the peace of mind of the individuals they are protecting. Life – and especially digital life – is complicated enough. Security solutions – and especially digital security solutions – should not be.

The tools and tips outlined above are a good place to start for anyone looking to untie what may be an overly tangled, insecure experience with the web. As new technologies emerge, be they malicious or legitimate, one of the most potent protective measures any web user can take is to remain ever-selective about which technologies they interact with, which ones they share information with, and, ultimately, which ones they allow to access their life through their computer.

If you’re reading this article, chances are good that you’ve already let Emsisoft into your life – so thanks! We hope you like our new, simple software and our new, simple shield. Despite the facelift (and the improved performance), we’re still the same company at heart, and as long as you’re using us we’ll continue to keep your web experience safe, simple, and secure.

As for newcomers – well, if you’ve read this far, then you’re already on the right track: research everything before putting it on your PC. That includes your antivirus, and by extension that also includes Emsisoft! For more about our company, our software, and our vision of a Malware-Free World, look no further than our recently revamped About page, Who is Emsisoft?

 

Have a Great (Malware-Free) Day!