Browsing articles tagged with " privacy"

Your Data Isn’t Safe — Now What?

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Imagine a library. Every night, the library locks its doors. But one night, a burglar manages to get in. All the books and manuscripts are gone, right? Not in this library. You see, in this library, most of the books themselves are locked down, and the ones the robber does manage to carry with him turn out to be outdated travel guides and self-help books from 1974.

Admittedly, this would be a strange way of running a library. But for businesses looking to protect their vital data assets, something like it could become the future. The concept is called “data-object security,” and it relies on a principle most people are reluctant to admit: All systems are inherently insecure.

The idea is actually as liberating as it is worrisome. Today, systems such as email are generally protected by a single password that, if broken, allows an intruder to run as far as he wants inside your in-box. Networks and servers are similarly vulnerable; they’re little more than a lockbox for your data. But if you assume that the lock will eventually get broken, that frees your attention to focus on what happens next.

This is where data object security comes in. It’s a setup that doesn’t just protect data at a system level; it also protects the individual bits and bytes of data inside the system. What if every file, or even every cell in a spreadsheet, came along with a set of rules governing what different people would see when they opened it up? The rules might say, Bob from accounting can see one part of this file — just the part he needs to do his work effectively — while John, an outside federal regulator, might be able to see a little more, and Steve, at the executive level can open up that same file and see everything Bob and John saw, and more.

Here’s another way to look at it. If data security means defending the library that holds your information, data-object security is about defending what goes into the library itself. The two ideas are radically different, and according to Josh Sullivan, a vice president for data analytics at Booz Allen Hamilton, as more businesses come around to the latter, a common ideal promoting good data stewardship will emerge.

“It’s a whole new way of thinking,” Sullivan told me. Take it far enough, and you wind up in a future where access to data is democratized. Right now, businesses jealously guard their information because once a file has been opened, all of its contents are visible to the reader and to whomever he or she sends it to. By contrast, data becomes more useful to more people when access is limited to only what they need.

With data-object security, firms and agencies will be able to track their information with more accuracy, too. For every piece of their data that gets called up by, say, an academic, businesses (not to mention all the academic’s peers) will know where that data had previously been and where it is allowed to go next. In dataspeak, Sullivan told me, to understand the trajectory of a piece of data is to trace its lineage.

Rules about data can also be set up according to pedigree — a measure of who is accessing the information (think tanks? high-school clubs? hobbyists?) and how useful they’ll find it (can you make accurate financial predictions with it, or is it only good enough to get a general idea of the market?). Remember that what makes this concept so powerful is that all of these attributes can be applied to the same file.

Data democratization requires businesses and governments to be a little more comfortable sharing — and that raises privacy concerns. No commercial standard currently exists for ensuring data privacy, and in its absence, many are turning to a totally different field for answers: medicine.

“In HIPAA, we’ve got a process,” said Jules Polonetsky, a former chief privacy officer at AOL, referring to the federal law that determines who can view and share patients’ medical records.
“It’s been laid out, and it may or may not be perfect, but it says you must follow these rules and de-identify health data.”

Taking the same principles that govern anonymized medical information and applying them to commercial or administrative data may not need a law, Polonetsky told me. It might be that some common understanding could evolve among companies themselves. But using HIPAA as a model at least provides a baseline for comparison so that businesses know just how rigorous their data policies are.

Privacy advocates and proponents of data are often at odds with one another. One side generally views the explosive growth of data as a creepy development ripe for abuse, and the other often looks at data in almost utopian terms. Yet it’s possible that the new advances in security may create an opportunity to bring the two closer together.

“Data-object security gives you finer-grain security, but it also encapsulates the rules of, ‘How can I share this data, and with whom, and how long do I keep it?’ and you start to embed the stewardship of the data as descriptors on the data itself,” Sullivan said. “That’s the key to enabling data democratization — where the right person can get the right data when they need it.”

Image courtesy of Flickr, John McStravick


9 Tips to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi

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Your bank calls you to verify your recent $750 bill at an out-of-state Taco Bell, but you haven’t left town in weeks. You quickly contest the charge and request a new credit card, but when you check your wallet the compromised card is still there. You try to think of shady ATMs or recent cashiers, but nothing comes to mind. Nothing, except the online purchase you made while browsing the Internet at your local coffee shop.

The number of free public Wi-Fi hotspots is growing, but not every hotspot can provide the protection of a private home network. Your notebook, tablet or smartphone’s default settings and firewalls may not be enough to keep you safe from prying eyes while on the go. If you want to keep your information and files secure, read these essential tips for protecting yourself when you’re away from home.

1. Turn Off Sharing

You may share your music library, printers or files, or even allow remote login from other computers on your Wi-Fi network in the privacy of your own home. Unless you disable these settings before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, anyone else in the vicinity may be able to hack into your PC.

If you’re using a Windows PC, you’ll want to start by opening the advanced sharing settings of the Homegroup section of the Network and Internet settings in the Control Panel. From here, you’ll be able to toggle file and printer sharing as well as network discovery, which will make your computer visible to anyone connected to the same network. For Mac, just go to System Preferences, then Sharing, and make sure none of the options are checked.

2. Get a VPN

The most secure way to browse on a public network is to use a virtual private network. A VPN routes your traffic through a secure network even on public Wi-Fi, giving you all the perks of your private network while still having the freedom of public Wi-Fi.

While free VPN services exist, a paid VPN service guarantees the connection’s integrity. If you regularly connect to unknown networks, setting up a VPN is smart to protect your personal information.

One VPN provider is Private Internet Access, which costs $6.95 monthly and allows for unlimited bandwidth and multiple exit points, which will let you choose which country your network traffic is routed through.

3. Avoid Automatically Connecting to Wi-Fi Hotspots

Your smartphone or tablet may be set to automatically connect to any available Wi-Fi hotspot, a setting that can seriously endanger your privacy. Not only will this allow your device to connect to public networks without your express permission, you may also be automatically connecting to malicious networks set up specifically to steal your information.]

Most modern smartphones have this option disabled by default, but this isn’t always the case, and it’s a setting you should always double-check. First, open the Wi-Fi section of your phone’s settings app. If you don’t see an option to disable auto-connecting, you’re already safe. Otherwise, turn this setting off.

4. Use SSL

Regular websites transfer content in plain text, making it an easy target for anyone who has hacked into your network connection. Many websites use SSL to encrypt the transfer data, but you shouldn’t rely on the website or Web service to keep you protected.

You can create this encrypted connection with the browser extension SSL Everywhere. With this plugin enabled, almost all website connections are secured with SSL, ensuring that any data transfer is safe from prying eyes.

5. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication means you need two pieces of information to log into an account: One is something you know and the other is something you have. Most often this takes the form of a password and a code sent to your cellphone.

Many popular websites and services support two-factor authentication. This means that even if someone is able to get your password due to a hole in a public Wi-Fi network, they won’t be able to log into your account.

To enable this feature for Gmail, log into your account and open the settings page. Navigate to the Accounts And Import tab and click Other Google Account Settings. The second section will be two-step verification, and you can click Settings to start.

First, enter your phone number and choose whether you’d like a text message or a phone call. Next, Google will send a six-digit code to your phone. Enter this when prompted. Now, whenever you log into Google from a new computer, you’ll be asked to verify your identity by entering both pieces of info.

The login process will now take a few extra seconds when you use a different device, but you can rest peacefully knowing that your account is safe and secure.

6. Confirm the Network Name

Sometimes hackers will set up a fake Wi-Fi network to attract unwitting public Wi-Fi users. The Starbucks public Wi-Fi network might not be named “Free Starbucks Wi-Fi.” Connecting to a fake network could put your device into the hands of a malicious ne’er-do-well.

If you’re not sure if you’re connecting to the official network, ask. If you’re in a café or coffee shop, employees will know the name of the official network and help you get connected. If there’s no one around to ask, you may want to move to a different location where you can be sure that the Wi-Fi network isn’t fake.

7. Protect Your Passwords

Using unique passwords for different accounts can help if one of your accounts is compromised. Keeping track of multiple secure passwords can be tricky, so using a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass can help keep you safe and secure.

Both KeePass and LastPass are free, but they store your information in different ways. KeePass keeps an encrypted database file on your computer, while LastPass stores your credentials in the cloud. There are pros and cons to each approach, but both services are completely secure.

8. Turn on Your Firewall

Most OS’s include a built-in firewall, which monitors incoming and outgoing connections. A firewall won’t provide complete protection, but it’s a setting that should always be enabled.

On a Windows notebook, locate your firewall settings in the Control Panel under System And Security. Click on Windows Firewall, then click Turn Windows Firewall On or Off. Enter your administrator password, then verify that the Windows Firewall is on.

These settings are in System Preferences, then Security & Privacy on a Mac. Navigate to the Firewall tab and click Turn On Firewall. If these settings are grayed out, click the padlock icon in the lower left, enter your password, then follow these steps again.

9. Run Anti-Virus Software

Always running up-to-date anti-virus software can help provide the first alert if your system has been compromised while connected to an unsecured network. An alert will be displayed if any known viruses are loaded onto your PC or if there’s any suspicious behavior, such as modifications to registry files.

While running anti-virus software might not catch all unauthorized activity, it’s a great way to protect against most attacks.


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