Computer Security and Privacy.     42     Please send any comments to me.

This page updated: May 2017

Online Privacy section
Privacy In General section
Online Security section
Theft recovery software section
Miscellaneous section


Online Privacy

Ways to protect your privacy online:

  1. Don't put really private stuff online. At all.

    Naked pictures of yourself or your spouse ? Personal embarrassments ? Dark secrets ? Something illegal ? Just don't put it online, or transmit it over the internet. Maybe don't even put it on your computer or phone or camera.

  2. Give "them" as little data as possible.

    Don't fill in all of those "profile" fields. Why tell Facebook where you've worked, where you went to school, who your family members are ?

  3. Give them fake data.

    Don't give them your real birthday, or real mailing address, or real phone number. Misspell your name slightly.
    [But: if Facebook or whoever later challenges you to produce real ID to verify your account, and your info doesn't match, you'll lose the account.]

    Similar when installing an OS, or using a brand-new PC for the first time. Give your PC a generic name like "laptopJ", create a user account with a generic name like "userK", instead of using your real full name. Those names will appear on networks and other places.

    Email address:

    It may be a good idea to have separate email addresses for family, work, financial, social, shopping.
    Hiding From The Internet's "Compartmentalization"

    You can get a disposable email address, which exists just long enough to finish registering somewhere: 10 Minute Mail, Mailinator, others.

    A service which will "screen" your real email address, phone number, credit card number by giving out different info which relays to your info: MaskMe (Stop giving out your real personal info online with MaskMe, a new privacy tool). [Maybe name has changed to "Blur" ? Blur]

    End-to-end encrypted email:
    Highly recommended by security people: Protonmail
    Eric Mann's "End-to-End Crypto: Secure Email"

    Credit-card info:

    Virtual Credit Cards:
    You can get one or more Virtual Credit Card numbers. You may be able to set a purchase limit or time limit on the number. You might be able to get such a number from your existing credit card company.

    Such a number is virtual, not physical, so you can use it only online, not in a store. Don't use it for something you buy online but then pick up in person: air travel, hotel, rental car. Virtual numbers often don't work for overseas transactions, only within the country of origin. If your real number and all virtual numbers are issued by the same company, that company still can see all of your activity.

    Neil J. Rubenking's "5 Things You Should Know About Virtual Credit Cards"
    Alan Henry's "Privacy Lets You Create 'Virtual' Credit Card Numbers, Deactivate One Instantly If It's Stolen"
    Rebecca Lake's "Why Virtual Credit Card Numbers Aren't Worth It"
    Simon Zhen's "Virtual Account Numbers: What You Need to Know"


    Prepaid (debit) cards:
    You can get a physical card, so not just for online use. But refunds may get complicated. Any balance you load into the card might not be protected by banking laws, certainly not at the $50 limit of protection on a credit card.


    Maybe in the future we'll get "decoy" tools or services: something that posts fake info online to make it harder for others to figure out your true info. Fake pictures of you, fake address, fake postings, etc.

    Some people carry a fake ID, to show to businesses that demand photo ID. I think it's legal as long as it's not a fake of a government ID, and you're not committing fraud. A fake corporate employee ID card from a fake corporation, maybe. Maybe add this fake person as an authorized user to your real credit card ?

  4. Maybe use login/password info from elsewhere, instead of using your own.


  5. Use "blockers".

    Several ways to do this:

  6. Set the "do not track" option in your browser to (maybe) stop "ad tracking".

    In FireFox 10, it's: Options - Options - Privacy - Tell websites I do not want to be tracked.

    But: Jon Brodkin's "Yahoo is the latest company ignoring Web users' requests for privacy"

  7. Use the privacy controls in the ISP and social networks and sites you use.

    Very important: Log on to the web site for your ISP and find any privacy settings they have for your account.

    Facebook lets you control the access that Apps and external sites get to your data: go to Account - Privacy Settings - Apps and Websites - Edit your settings.
    Melanie Pinola's "The 'Nuclear' Option for Total Facebook App Privacy"

    Turn off your Google search history: here
    YouTube: profile - Video Manager - History - Clear All Viewing History, and then History - Pause Viewing History, and then Search History and do the same clear-and-pause.
    See and turn off data aggregating by BlueKai: here

    Handy central places to start:
    Stay Safe Online's "Check Your Privacy Settings"

  8. Apparently, "opting out" via NAI stops targeted ads, but does not stop companies from tracking your activities.

  9. Delete most cookies every now and then.


    Or delete all cookies every time you close the browser:
    Ian Paul's "How to automatically delete your cookies every time you close your browser"
    But if you do this, you'll probably want to be using a password manager, because you'll be logging in to sites a lot.

  10. Encrypt your traffic: use HTTPS web sites, and/or a proxy or VPN.

    Definitely use HTTPS on all of your sensitive sites: email, financial.

    See next section about these things.

  11. Don't always use the same IP address, or hide your IP address via a proxy or VPN.

    Changing IP address periodically:
    If you're connecting through a home Wi-Fi and cable router/modem (and no VPN), you probably can't change your external IP address. The router/modem probably is using one external IP address for all devices on your home network. To test this, open browsers on two devices simultaneously and go to on both devices. You'll probably see the same (external) IP address for both devices.

    Try power-cycling the fiber router/modem, and see if it comes up with a new external IP address. It may not.

    If you're connecting some other way, you may have a chance of changing IP address. On Windows, create a CMD file containing "ipconfig /release && ipconfig /renew" and run it as Administrator. Check before and after, using

    WikiHow's "How to Refresh Your IP Address on a Windows Computer"

    My attempt to understand VPN vs no-VPN:

    • If you use HTTP and Wi-Fi to ISP, anyone spying on the Wi-Fi also can see every site and every web page and URL you visit and every search you do. If the Wi-Fi is in your house and encrypted, probably no one is spying on it. If it's public Wi-Fi in a cafe or something, there's a reasonable chance that someone will be spying. Also, your ISP knows your name and address, and can see every site and every web page and URL you visit and every search you do. They could log and monitor and sell this data.

    • If you use HTTP and wire or fiber ISP, your ISP knows your name and address, and can see every site and every web page and URL you visit and every search you do. They could log and monitor and sell this data.

    • If you use HTTPS encryption to ISP to sites, HTTPS encryption is used between you and the web sites. Your ISP knows your name and address, and can see every site (domain) you visit, but NOT web pages and URLs and searches. They could log and monitor and sell this data.

    • If you use HTTPS to ISP to VPN to sites, HTTPS encryption is used between you and the web sites, and an additional layer of HTTPS encryption between you and the VPN server. So your ISP knows your name and address, and can see only that you're talking to the VPN server; ISP can't see any site (domain) or page or URL or search data. The VPN may not know your true name and address, and can see every site (domain) you visit, but not web pages and URLs and searches. Also the VPN exit may be in another country, so no one on that end knows what country you're in. And all of your traffic to site X will be mixed with traffic from other users of the same VPN to that same site, so it's harder for a spy on the site connection to separate out your traffic.

    • If you use HTTP to ISP to VPN to sites, a layer of HTTPS encryption is used between you and the VPN server. So your ISP knows your name and address, and can see only that you're talking to the VPN server; ISP can't see any site (domain) or page or URL or search data. The VPN may not know your true name and address, and can see every site and every web page and URL you visit and every search you do. They could log and monitor and sell this data. Also the VPN exit may be in another country, so no one on that end knows what country you're in. And all of your traffic to site X will be mixed with traffic from other users of the same VPN to that same site, so it's harder for a spy on the site connection to separate out your traffic.

    • Not all web sites support HTTPS.

    • "The ISP" could be your home ISP, or one used by your school or library or restaurant where you use Wi-Fi. So a VPN is not just protecting against your home's ISP.

    • Some VPNs may sell your data.

    • Some drawbacks of using a VPN:
      • You will pay a performance penalty, the only question is how much.
      • You may pay money for the VPN.
      • Some sites may not work or may impose a CAPTCHA if they see your traffic is coming out of a VPN.
      • Some sites (such as govt or credit-reporting companies) may not work if they see your traffic coming from a foreign country.
      • Some sites (such as bank or PayPal) may trigger a security flag if they see your traffic coming from an unusual country.
        My bank said this:
        We do not prohibit the use of a VPN per se, but VPN use often triggers our automated high-risk login protocols which lead to temporary account restrictions.

        We strongly suggest if you choose to use a VPN that you also enable two-factor authentication on your account. An account with active two-factor authentication should be exempt from automated restrictions.
        But your VPN may always have its traffic coming from a certain country, and you may be able to specify a static IP address. So you could reduce or avoid this problem.
      • [To avoid the last three issues, you may be able to add VPN exceptions or a proxy so that some sites don't go through the VPN, or set one browser or browser profile to use the VPN and another to not use it.]
      • Some networks (such as a school or library network) may ban/block VPN use.
      • You're adding another layer, another point of failure, to your system. If the VPN or its ISP is down, you're down.
      • Your ISP has to obey the laws of your country; the VPN may be located in some foreign country under a different legal system. The VPN company may be less regulated than your ISP.
      • If the VPN shares IP addresses among many customers, you may suffer from the bad behavior of other users. For example, suppose user X uses address N to do spamming, Google tags that address as a spammer, then you connect to the VPN and start using address N ? Maybe Google tags you as a spammer. Avoid VPNs that share IP addresses among customers ?

    • Many of the advantages of HTTPS and VPN can be lost via Javascript or user's own actions. What good is it to have the VPN hide your originating country if Javascript on the web page gets your location from the browser ? What good is it to hide your real name and address from ISP and VPN if you just go ahead and post those things on Facebook anyway ? In each case, you're not giving the info directly to the ISP or VPN companies, but you're revealing it. So HTTPS and VPN by themselves are not cure-alls.

    • Summary:
      • Definitely use HTTPS on every site that supports it.
      • Using a VPN hides HTTP traffic from your ISP.
      • Using a VPN has costs, in performance and functionality and maybe money.
      • Even if the VPN is logging and selling your data, that may be better than your ISP doing the same, if you give fake ID info to VPN.

    Alan Henry's "Why You Should Start Using a VPN (and How to Choose the Best One for Your Needs)"
    Thorin Klosowski's "The Biggest Misconceptions About VPNs"
    Max Eddy's "The Best VPN Services of 2017"
    Amul Kalia's "Here's How to Protect Your Privacy From Your Internet Service Provider"
    reddit's /r/VPN
    Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN

    From /u/wombtemperature on reddit 5/2017:

    This VPN industry needs a wake-up call, ELSE a better way at helping the average joe at Starbucks. Guys. Like. Me.

    I read. As such, I know the importance of a VPN. In fact, I have spent hours/days reading up on them. I have made excel spreadsheets to compare them (and looked at the ones on "that site"). I even WANT to give you my money to insure I have a good one. As such, I have tried 4 paid popular ones I won't mention as I don't want to call them out, and spent a ton of time testing them on my PC and mobile.

    They all are frustratingly SLOW. Or interfere with connections.

    No matter what, all I want is a FAST secure connection I don't have to think about. Yet, I can't find a VPN that doesn't bring my public and often home networks connections to a crawl. The expected "30% drop" is BS. And none automatically find me the best servers, and in fact often I can get faster servers 5000 miles away, but I have to manually select them.

    I understand its complicated. But I have stuff to do. Seriously. Which is why I want to pay someone else to think about these things and give me a good product.

    You all sales-pitch me the "fastest speeds" but then I watch as my connection up and down speeds drop to pathetic - and I have the spreadsheets to prove it.

    To anyone listening I speak for the masses ... take my money and give me a decent, secure VPN connection.

    And if I am just not "reading enough" to know how to get what I am looking for, then it highlights my point that there is a problem out there for the non-technical guys like me who just want security without massive compromise and hours of research.
    From /u/Youknowimtheman on reddit:

    When we talk about speed drops, you're going to lose ~9% just because of how the encapsulation and encryption works. You're also going to lose about 10ms on pings because the actual encrypting and decrypting takes time.

    It is also important to manage expectations when we talk about privacy networks that are based on shared connections. We have had a rash of users on our service that are unhappy with our "slow" performance because their gigabit connection slows down to 190Mbit. They don't understand the nature of VPNs and that in order to keep their information private, their traffic has to be mixed with other users on a server, and these servers are running the same 1Gbit connection that they have. Yes, it is 20% of your line speed, but at the same time it is extremely fast for the market generally, and pretty much the limits of what you'll see on a server with proper user densities to protect your information.

    If you're talking about a 30% drop on 10Mbit that is significant. If you're getting a 30% drop on 200Mbit that's absolutely normal.

    There's also other factors that play into VPN performance like distance from the server, which protocol they are using, etc.

    In other words, you're always going to have some loss. If all factors are good, you can minimize that loss up to a limit in speed. More than 200Mbit just isn't going to happen on a safe and private connection generally.

    Campbell Simpson's "CSIRO: Most Mobile VPNs Aren't Secure"

    If you want to host your own VPN, you shouldn't do it on your home network, because you'll still be using your home ISP. Instead, you need to have a different ISP for your VPN server. Which probably means hosting the VPN server in a cloud service.
    Jim Salter's "How to build your own VPN if you're (rightfully) wary of commercial options"

    If you're doing illegal things, don't expect a VPN or proxy company and their ISP to shield you if they're served with a court order. They may be forced to log your activity and trace you and give the data to law enforcement.


    A proxy just redirects your traffic, making it come out from a different computer with a different IP address. Doesn't add any encryption. And typically must be configured for each application where you want to use it, whereas a VPN affects all internet traffic.

    Proxies have most of the same drawbacks as VPNs (added point of failure, some sites may not allow, have to trust provider, etc), but the performance penalty for a proxy should be much less than that for a VPN.

    Jason Fitzpatrick's "What's the Difference Between a VPN and a Proxy?"

    Hide My Ass! (free proxy server)
    Public CGI (Web, PHP) anonymous proxy free list
    search for Firefox proxy add-ons


    Most likely, your computer is using either Google's Public DNS ( or, or a DNS run by the ISP you are using, or is set to find a DNS automatically (which probably means: DNS run by the ISP).

    The DNS can see what sites (domains) you are connecting to, but not which pages or URLs or searches you are doing on those sites.

    If you're using Google's DNS, and don't want Google to know what sites (domains) you visit, you can change to another DNS.

    If you're using the ISP's DNS, and are not using a VPN, there's no point in changing DNS, the ISP sees all of the sites you use regardless of the DNS.

    If you're using the ISP's DNS, and are using a VPN, you could change to another DNS, accessed through the VPN, and the ISP will not be able to see anything except that you're accessing the VPN. No sites (domains), no pages or URLs or searches.

    If you're using a VPN or proxy or Tor to hide your normal traffic from your ISP or someone spying on your network, yet your DNS traffic is NOT going through the VPN etc, this is called a "DNS leak". A web page may be able to use Javascript to find out your real IP address, even though you're using a VPN etc.
    Wikipedia's "DNS leak"
    DNS leak test

    Some good reasons to use Google's Public DNS:
    Joseph Caudle's "Why and How to Use Google's Public DNS"
    Vijay Prabhu's "How to Change Your Default DNS to Google DNS for Fast Internet Speeds"

    Choosing a DNS by speed:
    John E Dunn's "Best 6 free DNS services"
    Remah's "How to Find the Best DNS Server"
    Chris Frost's "Clearing the DNS Cache on Computers and Web Browsers"

    My computer (running Windows 10) was set to "find DNS automatically", which meant it was using the DNS run by my ISP. I ran namebench several times, and results varied, but generally the DNS run by my ISP was fastest or among the fastest. So I left my computer set to "find DNS automatically".

    From someone on reddit:
    "some routers ignore individual device settings, so if that's the case you have to change the DNS settings on your router to whatever server you want to use"


    Mac Makeup can change your MAC address.

  12. Stay logged out of Google and Facebook et al as much as possible, as you browse other sites.

  13. Don't use everything from one company.

    If you use Google Apps, Google Docs, Google Sites, Chrome browser, GMail, Google search, Google Maps, and Google+, then of course Google is going to know a lot about you. Instead, spread it around: Yahoo Mail, Facebook, some free web hosting service, Firefox browser, Google search, etc.

  14. You can delete your accounts on various services, although often they make it hard to find out how to do that.
    Some people say: instead of just deleting an account, first go in and delete as much of your data as you can, and change as much of the rest as you can to fake data. Maybe let it sit in that state for a couple of weeks. Then delete your account.

    Dibya Chakravorty's "How to clean your digital identity"

  15. Put tape over the webcam on your laptop.
    Or software:
    Kioskea's "Windows 8.1 - Prevent apps from using your webcam or microphone?"

  16. Turn off the microphone on your laptop or smartphone.
    Maybe put a dummy plug into the external microphone jack.
    Tape over the built-in microphone opening doesn't really work.
    Or software:
    Alan Henry's "How to Stop Web Sites from Potentially Listening to Your Microphone" (Chrome only)
    Jignesh Padhiyar's "How to Find and Prevent Apps from Accessing Your iPhone's Microphone in iOS 7"
    Kioskea's "Windows 8.1 - Prevent apps from using your webcam or microphone?"

  17. Know the features of your devices.

    Does your TV have a microphone, a camera, Wi-Fi, a wired internet connection ? Does your printer do Wi-Fi ? What connectivity does your car have ? Is your phone sharing photos to your Google or Apple account ? What EXIF data is in the photos your phone creates ?

  18. Turn off features you don't use.

    Don't use Bluetooth, NFC, infrared, Cortana, Siri, location/GPS services ? Turn them off completely, at the OS level. Don't use some old applications ? Uninstall them, or turn off their update background services.

  19. In Windows, don't routinely use an Administrator-privileged account, use a non-Administrator account.

    From someone on reddit:
    > If I already have my account as admin
    > is there a way to demote it?

    Create another user account. Name it Admin or Bambi or whatever floats your boat at that particular second. Set that account as a system administrator. Log out of your current account and into the new account. Change your normal account to a a standard user. Log out of the new admin account and back into your regular account.

    All of this is done through the 'User accounts' control panel applet.

  20. Deleting browser history really does nothing for your privacy, unless someone steals your computer and looks at your history.


  21. Anything you store on a server may reduce your privacy. Your contact list in email, buddy list on instant messaging, Friends list on Facebook, etc. Any emails in your Inbox, or saved long-term in a "folder" within your email service. Okay, email or IM or Facebook won't function without those contact lists. But maybe you shouldn't use your email as a data store.

  22. You have few rights to anything you store on or do with your employer's computers or networks. Don't use them for private things.

    Kashmir Hill's "How To Tell If Your Boss Is Spying On You"

  23. Maybe turn off location-monitoring services and apps in your smart-phone and browser. But your cell-phone company will always know where your phone is, if it's turned on, or maybe even just if it has a battery in it.

  24. There are more-aggressive things you can do, but I think the cost/inconvenience is too high for the benefit, in most cases. (And some of them require your friends to use the same applications, or adapt to your behavior.) Tor browser, run Linux (because you don't trust Microsoft or Apple), multiple throwaway email accounts, encryption everywhere, prepaid throwaway phones, email and VoIP services and social networks specifically designed to be more private, run your own email server, etc.
    Peter Bright and Dan Goodin's "Encrypted e-mail: How much annoyance will you tolerate to keep the NSA away?"
    Jody Ribton's "The Hostile Email Landscape"

    Windows user trying Linux:

    The Ultimate Linux Newbie Guide
    Distro Chooser

    From /u/Im-Mr-Bulldops on reddit 5/2017:

    • Pick a newbie/popular distro like Mint or Ubuntu(or one of the derivatives[Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, etc]) and install it to a flash drive to test it out. They're designed to be easy to use and come with plenty of community support for any and all problems you might have.
      • Start by making a live USB:
        • Download a live USB creator. [I recommend Rufus]
        • Download the ISO file for the distro you want. [Start with Mint, it's so easy to use and similar in style to Windows that my mother can use it and she can't even add contacts to her phone] [I also suggest downloading your distros via torrent as it's much, much quicker]
        • Launch Rufus, select your flashdrive (make sure it's empty), select "create a live USB using:[ISO Image]", browse to where the ISO is located (click the little disk icon to the right of the dropdown menu), select it, and click "Start".
      • When it's done, reboot your computer and boot into BIOS (usually by pressing F2/F10/F12/ESC --- if you have any problems, search for "[computer manufacturer] boot into BIOS" and you should be able to find what key you need to press at startup).
      • Navigate to Boot Options, move the USB option up to the first position, then save and exit, it'll reboot and you should shortly see the boot menu.
      • Select "Try [distro] without installing" and it'll boot up into a live version of the OS so that you can give it a try without any changes to your computer.
      • Keep in mind that the live version will run slower than the installed version but it'll give you a chance to test it to make sure you like the look and feel of the distro and also that it works with your hardware. In my experience, most hardware will work fine without any tweaking. The only exception to this is that Ubuntu seems to be lacking certain drivers lately, for instance my laptop's SD card reader doesn't work out of the box while Mint and other distros recognize it fine. Another reason I suggest Mint for new users, plenty of hardware support and it comes with a variety of codecs so your foray into Linux will go as smoothly as possible and require very little tweaking.
    • After you figure out which distro you wanna use, look up a guide on how to install it on your hard drive. They're all very straightforward and they should come with pictures so you can easily see exactly what you need to do. Since you're just starting, I would suggest trying a dualboot. That way you've still got Windows if you need it (eg: for a Windows only app).

  25. Your friends and relatives are a threat to your privacy. They may post about you on social networks, put pictures of you online, mention you in emails.

  26. There is no such thing as total privacy, or perfect security. If the government or a spy agency or law enforcement really wants to get your data, they can get it.
Paul Bischoff's "75+ free tools to protect your privacy online"
Fried's "The Ultimate Guide to Online Privacy"
Karegohan-And-Kamehameha's "privacyguide"
Noah Kelley's "A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity"
Privacy Alert's "Internet and software privacy"
Privacy Alert's "Data broker opt-out"
xkcd's "Security"

My desktop configuration:

Smartphones: Android, iPhone, etc
Fieke Jansen and Helen Kilbey's "Cybersecurity Self-Defense: How to Make Your Smartphone More Secure"

Facebook is a special case, because they know so much about you, and they have code on many other web sites, and they buy data about you from other services. Vicki Boykis' "What should you think about when using Facebook?"

How do companies justify selling your information ?

  1. They are giving you a great free service, and they need to make money to keep it going.

  2. With more info, they can give you more relevant ads and news items and pointers to new Friends.

  3. They give you lots of ways to control the privacy/selling of your info.
    [But sometimes have been caught cheating on this.]

  4. You agreed to it when you signed up for the service. And you could stop using their service and close your account.

  5. They sell your info in general/aggregate, not your specific name, address, phone number, etc.

Privacy In General

Why should I care about privacy ? I have nothing to hide.

From HFTI:
Privacy isn't about hiding something. It's about being able to control how we present ourselves to the world. It is the right to keep things to yourself. It's about personal dignity.

Suppose you do some searches about cancer, or diabetes, or alcoholism. Do you want that info popping up the next time you apply for health insurance or car insurance or a job ? Even if you don't have cancer, diabetes, or an alcohol problem ? Easiest for the company to just deny you the insurance or the job, rather than investigate or take a risk.

Suppose you're a woman with an abusive ex-husband, or a creepy ex-boyfriend ? Do you want them to be able to track your location in real-time, or track you even if you move to another city ? Or to know where your new job is, or who many of your friends are ?

Suppose some of your friends or family care much more about their privacy than you do about your privacy. Exposing your info to the world could expose some of their info to the world. It even could affect future generations of your family: suppose you post about some genetic disease you have, and years or decades later this affects your descendants ability to get medical insurance ?

Some people do depend on privacy for their profession, or their life. They work in journalism or activism or investigations. Maybe they live under oppressive regimes, or investigate regimes which have a history of retaliation against opponents, or work in the justice system (where criminals might retaliate against them). If the rest of us don't value our privacy, there will be fewer tools to protect them, too.

From noir_lord on reddit:

Some people (including myself) are not comfortable with a faceless corporation knowing Now each of those on its own is somewhat unsettling, but when you combine all that together and then you don't really know how your data is handled now and how it might be handled in the future, then it starts to get really unsettling.

The thing with all this data is that it just accumulates, and over time the companies can really build up an accurate profile of you, and that is just f***ing creepy.

From Daniel J. Solove's "Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'":

Some responses to the "I've got nothing to hide; you have something to hide only if you're doing something wrong" argument: ...

... the nothing-to-hide argument stems from a faulty "premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong." Surveillance, for example, can inhibit such lawful activities as free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy.


Another potential problem ... is one I call exclusion. Exclusion occurs when people are prevented from having knowledge about how information about them is being used, and when they are barred from accessing and correcting errors in that data.


Yet another problem ... is distortion. Although personal information can reveal quite a lot about people's personalities and activities, it often fails to reflect the whole person. It can paint a distorted picture [and that can have consequences].


What if the government mistakenly determines that based on your pattern of activities, you're likely to engage in a criminal act? What if it denies you the right to fly? What if the government thinks your financial transactions look odd - even if you've done nothing wrong - and freezes your accounts? What if the government doesn't protect your information with adequate security, and an identity thief obtains it and uses it to defraud you? Even if you have nothing to hide, the government can cause you a lot of harm.

Reasons someone might want to attack you:

Srikrishna Sekhar's "Why worry about privacy?"
Ruth Coustick-Deal's "Responding to 'Nothing to hide, Nothing to fear'"
Patrick Allan's "Why Your Privacy Matters, Even If You're Not 'Doing Anything Wrong'"
New Yorker cartoon

Another way to look at it: will anyone ever develop a grudge against you, and look for ammunition against you ? Ways to embarrass you, or harass you ? Perhaps you'll get involved in a divorce, get in a dispute with a neighbor, get in a feud with a coworker. Or some idiot on the internet might come after you. How much information do you want to make available to them ?

From someone on reddit 1/2014:

As an employer I run every name and email address I am given by a potential hire through Google and Facebook. I look at everything public to make sure there isn't something completely f**king insane.

Things I don't do: I don't hold what their friends say against them. I don't Friend them or try to look at things that are private. I don't hold it against them if they don't have an account or I can't find it.

I do look at public photos and statuses. I don't care if they go to parties. I do care if they skip work to do so or because of it.

So far I'd say 80% of the applicants are fine. But in that other 20% I have found obvious racists, people who actively hate gays, people who play games every working minute (while at work).

Funniest was someone who had set their account to public and constantly complains about being at work FROM work and asked friends to come by and visit and talk, at a job where that was not appropriate.

For people who apply as interns, I let their school know to have them remind the student to lock down their account. For people who apply for real jobs, I don't say a word.

Some people say: Innocent people have nothing to fear from government spying.

I'd certainly feel uncomfortable and creeped-out if someone followed me around all day, videotaping everything I did, documenting every place I went and everything I did, watching me. Should it be okay for the govt to do this ?

Why was protection from unreasonable search put in the Bill of Rights (4th Amendment) ? It fits this situation exactly: govt is supposed to have a good reason for invading your privacy.

Some huge government investigations have targeted and ruined the lives of innocent people: the McCarthy hearings, the Atlanta Olympics bombing (Richard Jewell was innocent), and the anthrax attacks (Steven Hatfill was innocent) come to mind.

Government powers have been used to target people with unpopular views, or journalists reporting news that politicians didn't want reported: FBI under Hoover, Nixon's enemies list.
Wikipedia's "COINTELPRO"

My response to someone who asked "Why is this NSA scandal such a big deal ? I'm not doing anything illegal.":

Some reasons:

1- NSA scandal is just one symptom of a bigger issue: govt checks and balances have broken down. Intelligence spending and activities are out of control, military spending is out of control, citizens got panicked by 9/11 and let govt take major new powers and now govt is out of our control.

2- NSA is just one point along a spectrum of threats to you. It is the least likely but most powerful threat. It points out that you are vulnerable to scammers, stalkers, eavesdroppers, online criminals, etc. It reveals that our online security and privacy tools and laws are weak.

3- Technology, and the threats from it, will only get more powerful and more invasive in the future. Insurance companies and advertisers and your wacky neighbor will all get more powerful tools to threaten your privacy.

4- Things you do that aren't illegal still may be private. Why do you have curtains on your windows ? Why do you close the door when you go to the bathroom ? Would you mind if someone published your tax returns, your salary and net worth numbers, your credit-card statements, your bank account statements, your medical records ? Why ? You're not doing anything illegal.

Future threats to privacy will be greater:

From Intelensprotient on reddit:
... you do not need to be registered with Facebook for them to make a profile for you. Once you have visited any page that is affiliated with them, they will create a file about you and collect each and every visit to every site that has a "Like" button or a Facebook plugin. The amount of data collected this way can be tremendous, which few people realize. Google is even more extreme, as they collect data from every place that has AdSense, Analytics and similar services, which basically covers almost everything the average person visits. Those services may not always be as obvious as a "Like" button - for instance, some are implemented by displaying a single transparent pixel image.


You cannot know what kind of surveillance methods and laws will be implemented in the future. Already, biometric information gathering such as the identification of people from video recordings is becoming more and more successful, even prompting for the EU to begin implementing a system that can link people in public places to their Facebook pages and other photographs. Similar plans are implemented by the US. Other technologies include public voice surveillance, supervision of vehicle movement or behavioral analysis in public spaces. All this data can and will be linked and combined with what is collected about you online.


More about the future: new technologies such as Google Glass and face-recognition and license-plate-recognition and CCTV will connect your "real" life and your online life more tightly, and in real-time. Facebook, law enforcement, even big retail stores are starting to do facial recognition. Things you do in public without giving your name, or giving fake data, and using cash, may still be connected back to your personal info. What you do online won't stay only online; what you do offline won't stay only offline.
Michelle Starr's "Facial recognition app matches strangers to online profiles"
George Dvorsky's "How Your Body's Unique Biosignatures Are Used for Surveillance"

In the future, CCTV and consumer cameras only will get better and better. In public, or through your window, cameras may be able to read the screen on your phone, hear your conversation from a distance, photograph you in infrared at night. One of the first users of this is the police force that brought us "stop and frisk": Joe Coscarelli's "The NYPD's Domain Awareness System Is Watching You".

And "The Internet Of Things" is coming: your own devices (car, house, refrigerator, toilet, etc) will make more and more data available, and some of that could be used to reveal your activities.

Another hint about where tech may go in the future: scanning your face and posture and movements to diagnose your health: Ben Amirault's "Diagnosing depression with facial recognition technology". Maybe a good thing in a doctor's office. Maybe a bad thing when a retailer is doing it and selling the data to insurance companies.

Some ideas gleaned mostly from lifehacker's "How You're Unknowingly Embarrassing Yourself Online (and How to Stop)":

Will Oremus's "Of Course Colleges Are Reading Kids' Tweets and Facebook Posts"
Katie Lobosco's "Facebook friends could change your credit score"
Karl Bode's "Banks Now Eyeing Cell Phone Metadata To Determine Your Loan Risk"
Ralph Nader's "Corporate espionage undermines democracy"
Yasha Levine's "What Surveillance Valley knows about you"
Justin Jouvenal's "The new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat 'score'"
Brett Thomas's "Online Porn Could Be The Next Big Privacy Scandal"
Grady Johnson's "With New Medical Technologies, Opting Out May No Longer Be an Option"
David Auerbach's "We Can't Control What Big Data Knows About Us. Big Data Can't Control It Either."
Cindy Cohn and Trevor Timm's "Busting Eight Common Excuses for NSA Mass Surveillance"
Ben Amirault's "Diagnosing depression with facial recognition technology"
Thor Benson's "We Need to Regulate Technology That Can Detect Your Emotions"
Yaniv J Turgeman and Eric Alm and Carlo Ratti's "Smart toilets and sewer sensors are coming"
Brendan I. Koerne's "Your Relative's DNA Could Turn You Into a Suspect"
Rick Falkvinge's "What's Privacy Good For, Anyway?"
Neil J. Rubenking's "5 Ways Identity Theft Can Ruin Your Life"

Some societal nuances to privacy:

My response to an article saying "Google and Facebook and Twitter have not created new products that stand alone like a car or a new house; they have created things that invade every other aspect of the economy and our culture. That is a different level of power.":

I think this is overblown. I could stop using Facebook and Google and Twitter tomorrow, with some effects but not big effects on my life. I can give them false info, give them minimal info, use alternatives to them, do without them.

Government and military and police have the potential to have unavoidable, huge effects on my life. They take some of my money (and give me services) without much choice on my part. Sometimes they cause other people to attack our country. They have access to my tax information, credit info, bank account info, phone records, etc.

Some companies have large physical effects on my life and my health. Fossil-fuel power companies, and other companies that put who-knows-what into the air I breathe and the food and drink I consume.

Other companies have pervasive effects throughout our economy and/or culture. TV networks. Phone companies. Walmart. Exxon.

The two political parties control much of what happens in the government and culture and economy.

Super-rich people could destroy me with lawsuits, or buy laws that affect me severely.

No, I think Facebook and Google and Twitter are pretty low on the list of powerful entities to worry about.

Companies that could have large access to your activities:

Some ways technology is stretching old notions of privacy:
Technology makes possible:

Key data you might want to keep private:

Jay Stanley's "Plenty to Hide"
John C. Dvorak's "On Privacy: It's Not What I'm Hiding (Or Not Hiding) That Matters"
Evgeny Morozov's "Your Social Networking Credit Score"
The Economist's "Lenders are turning to social media to assess borrowers"
Sarah Kessler's "Think You Can Live Offline Without Being Tracked? Here's What It Takes"
This Modern World's "Sensible Thinkers Think About Leaks"
Kashmir Hill's "10 Incredibly Simple Things You Should Be Doing To Protect Your Privacy"
Dave Greenbaum's "New Tax Fraud Scam Reminds Us: Protect Your Social Security Number"
Wired How-To Wiki's "Protect Your Data During U.S. Border Searches"
EFF's "Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border: Protecting the Data On Your Devices and In the Cloud"

Evan Dashevsky's "Admit It, You Don't Care About Digital Privacy"

The law (in USA):

[Mostly from Daniel Zwerdling's "Your Digital Trail: Does The Fourth Amendment Protect Us?"]

Two legal ways the govt or others can get your data: Fourth amendment of the Constitution protects against search and seizure.

But location of your data matters:
But there are other standards. For example, once NSA collects masses of phone-metadata, it isn't supposed to search within it and use pieces of it without a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" (RAS) that it is related to terrorism. [from Ryan Lizza's "State of Deception"]

And your cell-phone data may get swept up with that of criminals, with each phone company applying its own rules about what data is given to police. [from David Kravets's "Cops and Feds Routinely 'Dump' Cell Towers to Track Everyone Nearby"]

Online Security

Kashmir Hill's "10 Incredibly Simple Things You Should Be Doing To Protect Your Privacy"
Andrew Cunningham's "A beginner's guide to beefing up your privacy and security online"
Haelan Man's "Digital Wellness? How I Found Peace of Mind in My Digital Life."
Kashmir Hill's "Journalist Invited Hackers To Hack Him. Learn From The Mistakes."
Adam Clark Estes' "How to Encrypt Everything"
Justin Carroll's "Thirty-Day Security Challenge"
Filippo Valsorda's "I'm throwing in the towel on PGP, and I work in security"
Fried's "The Ultimate Guide to Online Privacy"
Andy Greenberg's "How To Bust Your Boss Or Loved One For Installing Spyware On Your Phone"

Theft recovery software


All of these products work by your computer sending "here I am" messages over the internet to a central site. But if the thief breaks up your computer to sell for parts, or uses it but never connects to the internet, the product won't work.

One note: if someone (a hacker or ex-spouse) finds out your theft-recovery password, they might be able to tell the software to delete all of your data, even though your device hasn't been stolen !

Password / login issues:

All of these theft-recovery products work by your computer sending "here I am" messages over the internet to a central site. But a computer running Windows 7 Home can't access the internet until the user has logged in to Windows. So the thief has to be able to get past the BIOS/firmware password prompt and the Windows password prompt.

There are three ways this could happen:
1- you always use your laptop with no passwords set, or
2- you have passwords set, but the thief resets the BIOS password and OS password (it can be done), and then logs in, or
3- you have passwords set, but the thief resets the BIOS password (it can be done), reformats the hard disk, installs a new OS, and then logs in.

In case (1) or (2), obviously a thief or casual snoop can log in right away, and read all of your files. Unacceptable.

Under Windows 7 Home Premium, there is no way to have a Guest account that can log in but then be unable to read files.

In case (3), a few of these theft-recovery products can survive the reformat/re-install and be capable of reporting their location when the thief eventually logs in and connects to the internet.

Case (2) or (3) represents a sophisticated thief; they could just pull out the hard disk and attach it to another PC, so they could read your files that way. Unless you're using some special full-disk-encryption product.

And case (2) or (3), the sophisticated thief, probably would be aware of the existence of theft-recovery products.

So it seems to me that this is a Catch-22 situation: these theft-recovery products work best in case (1), but that's the case where you've left your data most vulnerable to a naive thief or casual snoop. And in case (2) or (3), nothing protects you very much from a sophisticated thief.

I believe Linux and Mac systems are slightly better than Windows in that: once the OS password prompt is displayed, the machine can connect to the internet, even though the thief hasn't logged in to the OS. The thief would still have to get past the BIOS password to get to this point. So for Linux and Mac, if you set no BIOS password but do have an OS password, the laptop might report its location while the thief is sitting there trying to guess your OS password.

Let's look at fundamentals:

What is important to you ?

What are you trying to protect or prevent ?

  1. Prevent your device from being stolen.

    Solution: physical security (locks, cables, lock-box, etc).

  2. Prevent a thief from reading your data.

    Best solution: full-disk encryption, either via hardware (built into the hard drive) or software (such as TrueCrypt or FreeOTFE or PGPdisk or DiskCryptor; Wikipedia's "Comparison of disk encryption software", Martin Brinkmann's "List of TrueCrypt encryption alternatives", Lifehacker's "How to Encrypt and Hide Your Entire Operating System from Prying Eyes", Micah Lee's "Encrypting Your Laptop Like You Mean It", Chris Hoffman's "Why a Windows Password Doesn't Protect Your Data"). The software approach offers several alternatives and gets a bit confusing; hardware encryption is the wave of the future.

    But see Dan Goodin's "Western Digital self-encrypting hard drives riddled with security flaws" and Joseph Cox's "Some Popular 'Self Encrypting' Hard Drives Have Really Bad Encryption".

    A more limited solution: keep your most critical data in an encrypted text file (perhaps by using NotepadCrypt or something similar). Bitlocker, 7-Zip, AxCrypt also can encrypt individual files or sets of files.

    How-To Geek's "How to Encrypt Your Android Phone and Why You Might Want To"
    Eric Ravenscraft's "The Essential Android Security Features You Should Enable Right Now"
    I encrypted my Android 5 phone via Settings->Security, everything works fine, but it made me change from a 4-numeric PIN to a 6-8-alphanumeric passcode.
    On iPhone, just set a passcode and everything gets encrypted automatically ?
    Apparently, some smartphones must be jail-broken if you want to encrypt just specific folders, not encrypt or password-protect the whole phone.

    Password-lock your device, unless you're using a theft-recovery product that prevents this.

    Most of the theft-recovery products listed on this web page give you a "delete" or "shred" capability: when the thief connects to the internet, a command comes from the central site and all data on the hard disk is deleted. This prevents the thief from reading your data. But it works only if the thief connects to internet before trying to read your data, and if they haven't disabled the theft-recovery software somehow.

    Whitson Gordon's "How to Break Into a Windows PC (and Prevent It from Happening to You)"

  3. Avoid losing your data.

    Best solution: back up your data frequently, and don't keep the backups next to the laptop.

    /r/techsupport's "backuptools wiki"

  4. Avoid future losses.

    If your device contains account and password info, identity info, info about your family and friends, after a theft you'd have to take steps to avoid further damage. You'd have to change passwords, put out monitoring or alerts to prevent identity theft, contact other people at risk, etc. What else is on the stolen device ? Apps with registration codes or passwords stored in them, email in-box with account and password data, bookmarks ditto, cookies, any data files you use to record accounts and passwords, any BAT or CMD files with account/password in them.

    Perhaps now, before any theft, you should evaluate your device. Does it contain sensitive data that really doesn't need to be on there ? Or should that data be encrypted ? Does the browser contain cookies that will give instant access to your email and Facebook accounts ?

    After a phone or smart-phone is stolen, if you don't want to try theft-recovery, immediately report the theft to your carrier, to avoid huge call charges. Do it immediately; you are liable for calls made until the time you report the theft, and some gangs will make thousands of dollars of calls as quickly as they can after stealing the phone. Double-check with your carrier to make sure they received and recorded the report of the theft; probably a good idea to call them again and confirm it (article). Maybe report it online, and then call to confirm ? Ask them to send an email confirmation to you. A handset PIN doesn't protect you if the thief moves the SIM to another device.

  5. Get your device back.

    Solutions: etch your contact info onto the case of the device, inside and outside. Use the theft-recovery software listed on this web page. Keep a record of make, model, color, and serial numbers. Probably a good idea to have digital pictures of the device, front and back, to give to police.

    Display your contact info on the lock screen or login screen or physical label, so if a Good Samaritan finds your device, they can return it to you.

    After a theft, report the theft to police, and report the theft to the manufacturer or carrier (they'll probably require a copy of the police report). Maybe report it to online databases, such as Put up fliers in the area where it was stolen, offering a reward for return ? Look for it on Craigslist or EBay, maybe in the section for your local area.

Also: the "devices" you need to protect include your computers, tablets, phones and any backup media (external disks, tapes, flash drives, hard copies).

Privacy Alert's "Computer hardware privacy"

Mobile phone security:

[Do I have this right ?]

Three things to protect: your data, your device, and access to the service (ability of thief to make calls and run up bills on your account).
  1. Data:

  2. Device:

    Having a passcode/PIN set prevents thief from using your phone, even with another SIM inserted.
    [But is there a hardware reset that wipes everything and sets back to defaults ?]

  3. Service:

    • If phone has a SIM card, disabling service after the theft is your only protection on access to the service. Having a passcode/PIN set on the device doesn't stop thief from popping out the SIM card and using it in another phone.
      But: some SIM cards do have a separate PIN for the card itself.
    • If phone has no SIM card, having a passcode/PIN set will prevent thief from using the service.

Recovery issues:

What "location" information do you get once the thief has logged in and connected to the internet ?

You'd get the IP address. Maybe also the Wi-Fi or Ethernet network name ? If your stolen device had a GPS in it, you could get latitude/longitude. If your stolen device connects via cellular data-modem, you could get approximate latitude/longitude. Software could use the list of visible Wi-Fi networks to calculate approximate latitude/longitude.

From the IP address, you could find the ISP's info, and contact them.

If the IP address is specific to a person or house, the identity of the thief is fairly clear.

But if the IP address maps to a public Wi-Fi spot (such as provided by a school or library or McDonald's or Starbucks), or a private house that's running an open Wi-Fi signal, the identity of the thief is unclear.

Most products can use the laptop's webcam to take a picture of the thief, which helps.

The companies selling the commercial theft-recovery products may assist in the tracking and recovery process, helping you follow the IP address, contact law-enforcement, etc.

Some users who had devices stolen report great cooperation from law-enforcement in recovering their property; others report that police were uninterested in helping them. Probably varies from town to town and country to country, and also depends on how much info you can give to the police.

Whitson Gordon's "Can I Track My Laptop or Smartphone After It's Been Stolen?"
Lincoln Spector's "Protect your Android phone from loss or theft"

Hitesh Raj Bhagat & Karan Bajaj's "How to track & recover stolen or lost gadgets"
Patricia Laurie's "How to avoid buying a stolen laptop"
Stolen Phone Checker
Get Safe Online's "Report a lost or stolen computer"
Max Eddy's "What To Do When Your iPhone is Stolen"

Neil J. Rubenking's "What to Do When You've Been Hacked"
Lincoln Spector's "You've fallen for a scam! Now what?"
Patrick Allan's "What to Do When Someone Gets Unauthorized Access to Your Computer"

Nicholas Tufnell's "Naked selfies extracted from 'factory reset' phones"

Melanie Pinola's "What Should I Do If My Credit Card Gets Hacked?"
Alan Henry's "What To Do If Your Social Security Number Has Been Stolen in a Hack"
FTC's "" (what to do in case of identity theft)
/u/gitssa's What to do if unknown credit cards appear on your credit record


TL;DR about computer privacy, security and safety:

Anticipate problems:

Maintain a secondary email account, preferably on a different provider from your primary email. If something happens to your primary, you can use the secondary to send critical messages until you fix the primary.

Don't ignore the account-recovery settings on your accounts, or put bad data in there. Sure, you'd rather not let Google or Yahoo or Facebook know your phone number or your second email address. But that information can save you if their security triggers get pulled for some reason. You travel, you try to access your email, you get "hey, we see a login attempt from a known-dangerous country, we're turning off account access until you give us the code we're SMSing to your phone or emailing to your other account". Better hope you've kept the account-recovery options up-to-date.

From DrStephenPoop on reddit:


And not just what's on your hard drive.

Do not trust the cloud!

Google recently ended my account for an unidentified TOS violation. I am not sure what I did. I just logged into gmail one day and instead of an inbox I saw a message saying my account had been disabled. I lost:

8 years of email contacts

6 years of favorited YouTube videos

About a dozen videos I made with my brother that were uploaded to YouTube.

All my Drive/Doc files including original writing.

My passwords to several sites, including banking and insurance sites.

Three albums I had purchased from Google Play.

Here's the kicker: I was a google believer. I am one of the 5 or so non-developers who actually owns a first generation Chromebook. I believed in the cloud!

Use and enjoy Google's services, but do NOT rely on them. Even though you buy their computers and purchase music from them, you are STILL not the consumer with google. You are the product (sold to advertisers). So when you are shut out from their garden, you have no customer service to appeal to, or to even find out why you got tossed. You might as well be staring at an angel with a flaming sword, wondering where your pants are.

> Didn't you contact Support ?

When you get the "your account has been disabled" screen, they give you a link to voice your grievance. After submitting, you get a message that says something to the effect of: "If we find we have reason to contact you, we will contact you."

You can also go the community forums and plead for help. Sometimes someone associated with google will actually say: "I'll have people take a look at this." In all my pleas, I never got a response. That is as far as support goes. You are not a customer. You are the product, and you are merely a commodity. Have you ever heard of "commodity support"?
Tienlon Ho's "Can You Live Without Google?"

From someone on reddit:

A few days ago my Facebook account was disabled suddenly and without warning. I've gone through what I thought was a fairly routine appeals process - filled in the form they link you to when you try to log in and included a scan of my photo ID as they requested to prove I'm a real person etc. However, I just received an email from Facebook saying the following:

> ... Upon investigation, we have determined that you
> are ineligible to use Facebook. ... Unfortunately, for
> safety and security reasons, we cannot provide
> additional information as to why your account
> was disabled. This decision is final. ...

This is really bizarre and quite upsetting - it's easy to forget just how much we rely on this service. If I can't get my account reactivated, that's six years of content (and memories) lost, and a huge blow to my ability to keep in contact with some friends and family.

The only possible reason I can think of for my account being disabled is what I was doing at the time - sending some photos to someone through the private messaging system. Some of the photos were (mildly) adult in nature (at her request!) which could be deemed a breach of the Community Standards if you look at it in strict black and white terms ("Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content"). However I can't bring myself to believe that there is someone monitoring private message attachments and instantly banning people if they see boobs. Beyond that, I genuinely can't conceive of a reason as to why my account was singled out for anything.

Any advice would be appreciated as to what I should do next - I am not yet willing to just give up and lose all of that content. I have replied to the email, though I doubt anyone will read it, but beyond that there's really no other contact options I can see, and Googling this problem does not produce much beyond more horror stories like this.

From sugarbreach on reddit:

I am writing this to warn Google users to back up their data, and to realize that everything you take for granted can be taken away in an instant.

About a week ago I attempted to log into my Gmail account and was greeted with a page saying my account was disabled. It says that it was disabled due to a perceived violation of the terms of service and product specific polices. I have read and reread the google terms of service, and I know I haven't done anything to violate them. The only possibility I can think of is that someone may have hacked into my account. I have been an enthusiastic gmail user since it first came out in beta, and you had to be invited to get an account. I have relied on google apps to make my life easier. I have filled in their account recovery form, and even tried calling members of the Gmail team, but have had no luck. I also have posted on the gmail help forum, but an expert there said he contacted google and there was nothing he could do and google wouldn't tell him anything "for privacy reasons".

This has created the ultimate real-life nightmare, and has turned my life upside down, a few examples of which are listed below.

All of my contacts were linked to this account. I now do not have access to emails, phone numbers, addresses, etc.

My google voice telephone number is no longer working. I had this phone number on my business cards and email signature, and now when someone dials the number, they are given an error recording. "We could not complete your call, please try again".

My youtube account with many videos I cherished of my children are now gone.

I have all of my photos backed up to the account for nearly my entire life, as I thought this was the safest place to keep them (the cloud!) I have photos of my beloved grandparents who have since passed away, and the thought that I can no longer access these photos makes me sick. I also have thousands of pictures from vacations and of my children that I fear are gone forever.

A nice chromebook that I purchased to access all of the google apps is now almost useless since my account has been disabled.

I have multiple documents in my google drive that I have spent hours of work on, and can no longer access them.

I placed an enormous amount of faith and trust into google's products and services, as millions of people have worldwide. It is a shame that something this important in someone's life cannot even warrant a response from a live person at Google.

I have been very depressed because my entire life was encased in google's products, and now everything is gone.

Again, I am writing this to warn others that this can happen to anyone at any time, so it would be wise to back up treasured items in your google account. Ironically, google provides the means to do this through their "takeout" app, which I did not learn about until after my account was disabled. If there is anyone out there reading this that can offer any guidance for getting my account reinstated, I would sure appreciate it!

If you lose a cloud account, you can lose stored data, remaining time on a subscription, any accumulated credit or gift cards, network link that makes some device (such as Amazon Echo) work.

Maybe some people don't consider their email to be "cloud data", but it is. If you're saving 10 years of past emails in GMail or Hotmail or something, it may be valuable to you, and it may be used by a hacker if your account gets hacked. It's also hard to back up. I'm a big believer in keeping your email account as close to empty as feasible. Clean it out !

Jon Christian's "Deleting the Family Tree"
DanDeals' "PSA: Don't Mess With The Google!"
Alex Hern's "Pixel phone resellers banned from using Google accounts"

Eric Griffith's "Back Up Your Cloud: How to Download All Your Data"
Adam Dachis's "How to Protect Your Data in the Event of a Webapp Shutdown"

And of course back up your local data, not just your cloud data.
How-To Geek's "What's the Best Way to Back Up My Computer?"
Eric Griffith's "The Beginner's Guide to PC Backup"
/r/techsupport's "backuptools wiki"

From someone on reddit:

The basic methods of "hacking" accounts are:

General security and privacy issues:


[Generally from most likely to least likely:]
  1. Your own actions. (The biggest threat of all. You accidentally post something private in the wrong place, expose a password, mis-configure your device or account, lose your device, accidentally delete your data, trust a scammer.)

  2. Your family, friends, associates. (They post about you, snoop on you, accidentally leave your house or car unlocked, mis-configure their device, accidentally delete your data, trust a scammer. They expose their Contacts list, which contains your name and email and address and phone number and birthday. They tag you in Facebook photographs, or mention that you were with them at some wild party.)
    Your browser history

  3. Your ex-spouse, former friends who now are enemies, former coworkers who you fired or angered. (They may be highly motivated, but probably don't have access or skill to cause high-tech harm. Unless you forgot to change the passwords they know. But they may have private info they could post.
    Cyrus Farivar's "If you're a revenge porn victim, consider this free, helpful legal guide")

  4. Your software. Some application or web site you use may be sending your data to somewhere else that you don't know about (some apps harvest your email address book or phone contact list or Friends list). Or storing your data in an unsafe way in a server.

  5. Corporations selling your meta-data or data to advertisers.

  6. Corporations reading your data to enforce their contract rights (terms of service) and maybe look for criminal activity.

  7. Organizations accidentally exposing data you've entrusted to them, through careless practices or by getting hacked.

  8. Data criminals and hackers. (Identity thieves, credit-card thieves, blackmailers, ransomware, etc. Hackers who want to use your device as part of a botnet. And you may be a special target if you have something valuable on your computer:)
    Laura Shin's "Hackers Have Stolen Millions Of Dollars In Bitcoin -- Using Only Phone Numbers"
    Alex Hernandez's "Chase eATM user has mobile app hacked and loses $3,000"

  9. Casual snoops or thieves. (Although with snooping software, "casual" capabilities are increasing.)

  10. Law enforcement (recording everyone's activity, such as cell-phone locations and car license plates).

  11. Internet vigilantes or lynch mobs or public shaming. (E.g. someone decides a picture shows you abusing your dog, and whips up a mob to punish you.)

  12. Reporters.

  13. Private investigators and lawyers. (They have some access to government databases and powers.)

  14. Law enforcement (specifically targeting you).
    Jonathan Zdziarski's "Protecting Your Data at a Border Crossing"
    Andy Greenber's "A Guide to Getting Past Customs With Your Digital Privacy Intact"
    EFF's "Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border: Protecting the Data On Your Devices and In the Cloud"

  15. Foreign government intelligence agency. (Highest technical ability, but no legal authority.)

  16. Government intelligence agency. (NSA, DHS, etc. Highest technical ability, PLUS legal authority.)

No matter what protection you propose, some people will say "oh, the NSA has cracked that !". First, how do they know ? Second, a counter-measure still may be worth using even if the NSA could crack it; NSA is not the only threat or main threat. Third, just because NSA could crack something, doesn't mean they would spend the resources to crack your messages.

And some people say "trust no one !". Well, I think it is reasonable to trust the CPU chip vendors, and the compiler-writers. I don't see how useful "backdoors" could be built into those things (and I have BS and MS degrees in Computer Science). Trusting the OS vendors is a little more dubious; I guess I trust the basic OS, but maybe not all of the standard apps and services supplied with them. Same for trusting browser vendors.

Of course, if you trust no one, you'll never be able to get anything done. Can't drive my car, because I shouldn't trust the manufacturer. Better not eat anything, because I shouldn't trust the food companies or stores.

Some people say "it's all over, we've lost our privacy, it's done". No, it's an arms race, and right now consumers don't have very good weapons. We need to get convenient, good, routine encryption. We need more sites, applications, and protocols designed with security and privacy as priorities from the foundation up. Maybe "mesh" networking, peer-to-peer systems, distributed systems (SCG's "6 Anti-NSA Technological innovations that May Just Change the World"). We in USA need better regulation of spy agencies, via FISA and Congress. It's not over. You're generating new private data every day; you can protect that. And you can create fake data.

A worrisome trend: intelligence agencies being pressed to use their powers for non-intelligence purposes.
From Alex Hern's "David Cameron: GCHQ will be brought in to tackle child abuse images": "GCHQ [the British intelligence agency] will be brought in to tackle the problem of child abuse material being shared on peer-to-peer networks."
From NSA spokesman quoted in Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani's "NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally": "[The NSA] is focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets like terrorists, human traffickers and drug smugglers."
Eric Boehm's "Reuters: Law enforcement use info from NSA phone database to go after common criminals"
Conor Friedersdorf's "The NSA's Porn-Surveillance Program: Not Safe for Democracy"

Costs of counter-measures:

Patrick Howell O'Neill's "Dealing with the digital afterlife of a hacker"

General counter-measures:

How to attack cryptography:

[From hardest to easiest:]
  1. Find a flaw in the mathematics (extremely unlikely).

  2. Find a flaw in the algorithm.

  3. Find a flaw in the crypto software.

  4. Brute-force password-guessing.

  5. Find or create a flaw in the surrounding software (operating system, networking, key-logger, etc).

  6. Find a flaw in the configuration (software not updated, password not set, place where data is not encrypted, etc).

  7. Human problems (password exposed or easily guessed, social engineering, etc).

  8. Legal tools (warrant or subpoena to get encryption keys or tap traffic).

Low-tech solutions:

Things that may not increase security and privacy:

Operating systems and environments:

Testing your privacy and security:

New things we need to increase our privacy or security:

Some pretty devoted privacy security guys: The Complete Privacy & Security Podcast

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