Privacy is becoming a huge concern for many people. As recent events have shown, it is very difficult to be safe online. Yesterday’s (5/12/2017) malware hack affected at least 99 countries, including hospitals, governments, utilities, transportation, commerce, and other key areas. Sadly, it appears as though the hacking tool was originally at least developed by the National Security Agency of the USGovt. Granted, it may have been modified to its current form, but the take-home point is that your information is extremely vulnerable. We thought we’d put together a small compendium of some of the tools out there that may be used to help protect yourself. Understand that NO tool is bulletproof. Combining tools creates synergy and gives you a better chance. As a general disclaimer, we are not responsible for anything that happens as a result of the use of any tool, nor do we benefit in any way – economic or otherwise – from the publishing of this list and the list of tools. There are others we wont’ list in the interests of time, however, they may be just as good or possibly better than the ones we do list. Do your research. The good thing is you don’t need to be a computer expert to do this. If you can install software and follow simple directions, you’re in great shape.

Andy & Graham

PyEyeCrypt / OpenSSL – Allows the creation of encrypted text files for transmission via email, etc. Note the comments regarding Windows 10, which are part of the Privacy Statement “Your typed and handwritten words are collected”. Nice. We recommend buying an older computer that already has Windows XP on it if you need to use Windows. XP doesn’t have most of the snoopware that is current on so many of the newer operating systems – Mac OSX included. If you’re a UNIX buff, get yourself a SUN box and use the command line to install OpenSSL and then you can encrypt/decrypt easily. You can find directions on how to do virtually all of this online. Uses for these tools include sending confidential files with health, financial, or other personal information contained them. You can encrypt any kind of file from Word documents to audio files. Drawbacks – the person receiving the document needs to know the password to decrypt.

Download Page for PyEyeCrypt

Download Page for OpenSSL

Tor Browser – The GUI and look and feel of Tor is similar to that of Firefox, however, the TOR works on a network of servers and creates ‘layers’ between the user and their destination, much like the layers of an onion and the Tor Browser/Network is likened to an onion. It alone, however, does NOT create anonymity. It need to be used with a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to create the maximum level of anonymity and security. Where PyEyeCrypt and OpenSSL are for transferring secure files, Tor along with a VPN creates a comparable level of security for your web surfing. Many people reading this might be inclined to say ‘I’m not doing anything wrong or illegal, so why do I need to do this stuff? I have nothing to hide’. We have nothing hide either, however, we don’t like the idea of various parties surreptitiously collecting our personal information, location, and so forth. We are innocent of wrongdoing, we’re not criminals so why must we be monitored? You likely fall into the same boat. Tor works on a variety of platforms, including most flavors of Linux.

Download Page for Tor Browser

Virtual Private Network (VPN) – This is the cornerstone of maintaining web anonymity. While anything can be hacked (as has become obvious), The VPN makes it very difficult because all the traffic from your computer (not just web browsing) is encrypted before it is transmitted. This goes for email and other applications that use the machine’s Internet connection. The traffic then goes to the VPN server and is then doled out to the destination using a proxy. Thousands of people might ‘share’ the same IP address, so it makes it very difficult for snoopers, identity thieves, etc. to nail down a single user. Many of the companies claim (we say claim because  we don’t know for sure – we take them at their word) that they maintain no logfiles. We would be somewhat dubious of this for American companies as there are laws governing telecommunications companies like cell phone providers and they are required to keep logs for varying periods of time. Below are some of the VPN services available. Most charge by the month or year. Of all the things mentioned on this page, the VPN is the only portion that isn’t free. The rest of the software is open-source, meaning anyone can use it. You’re not pirating anything here.

The page below has a list of ‘best picks’ for the USA. This is not an exhaustive list; there are quite a few others, with varying features and pricing plans. A quick search engine query will give you a list of VPNs for wherever else you might be. We don’t recommend using Google for any searching. Not only have we found that they are scrubbing information (links on old articles can no longer be found with Google searches, etc), but Google has a poor reputation for protecting the privacy of its users. As does Microsoft, especially with its admission in Windows 10 that keylogging software is part of the operating system. In our opinion, these are unnecessary and egregious violations of privacy and these companies should be boycotted.

A list of VPNs for customers in the US

If you have questions, please feel free to use the contact form below. While we aren’t experts in IT, we have both used these tools from time to time to conduct our business affairs for the protection of our client information.