Everything Starts with a Password

Privacy Is Now a Choice, Not a Default

About.com met with IT consultant, Max Nomad, and picked his brain about how people's lives have been changed by the World Wide Web.  Max has some very interesting insights into how the Web is now part of our personal identity, and participating online involves taking responsibility for your own 'computer hygiene'. 

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Yes, Everything Starts With a Password Now

Everything starts with a password
Everything starts with a password. Melekhin / Getty

About.com: Max: thank you for your time to chat with us today.I find it very intriguing that you say 'everything starts with a password'.  Can you please tell us why you say that?  Is every meaningful online experience going to be hidden behind a padlock?  

Max Nomad: A digital padlock of sorts, yes – and it is called encryption. To the seasoned hacker, information comes in two types: data to exploit and data to sell. They know how to take harmless information gathered during your online activities and parlay it to find ways to steal access to your more valuable information (e.g. – identity info, credit card numbers, etc.). HTTPS is being implemented on more websites to encrypt your data, making it virtually impossible to read if it is intercepted between point A and point B. This is why hackers often target the user side during the early stages of a cyber attack. Once a password has been cracked or stolen, any information protected (or encrypted) by that password will be readable. “Everything starts with a password” is another way of saying that even the best network security can succeed or fail on the strength of the weakest user password. 

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Privacy Is the New Hygiene: You Have to Exert Yourself Every Day

Computer Hygiene: Everything Starts with a Password
Computer Hygiene: Everything Starts with a Password. Zovolis / Getty

About.com:  If I understand you correctly, participating in online life now requires having a 'digital passport' to access content. Why is that? Does this mean we have more or less privacy now?

Max Nomad: The average person has about 20 passwords. Ideally, they should all be different. For every 10 people I’ve assisted, at least 7 or 8 admit to using the same password for everything. And out of those 10, at least 9 admit to using unsafe passwords (e.g. – dictionary words, names, birthdates, etc.).  This is why I advocate using a Password Manager app. Since these apps use strong encryption, they’re great for generating better passwords and storing them in one place.

We have less privacy these days. Most free online services are selling our data – not necessarily our identities but targeted advertisements based on anything we read or click. Massive data breaches have become like public health outbreaks. Identity theft is rampant. Clicking on a link can turn your computer into a spy. Those are a few reasons why personal privacy has to be rigorously maintained like hygiene and physical fitness. 

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An Online Footprint Is Inevitable, But You Can Minimize It

Your Online Footprint Can Be Minimized...
Your Online Footprint Can Be Minimized... Bronstein / Getty

About.com: Max, what about those of us who don't want to have traceable accounts online?  Is it possible to leave no online footprint, but still participate in the World Wide Web?

Max Nomad: Technically it’s possible to engage in online activities without leaving an online footprint. Is it practical for most people? No. Contrary to most “privacy software” claims, there isn’t a simple point-n-click solution to make complete online anonymity easy for the average person.

In the truest sense of being untraceable, leaving no online footprint requires completely eliminating all evidence that can connect your online activities to your personal life. I’d recommend starting with an anonymizer operating system (e.g. – TAILS or Whonix across multiple computers). Your connection should go out through a third-party VPN service, preferably one that is offshore and accepts anonymous Bitcoin payments. The rest is sticking to the discipline of keeping your anonymous life totally separate from your personal life. That means setting up fake online personas for use only when you’re in anonymous mode. Quite candidly, I’ve seen cyber-heists that required less preparation and effort.

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So, You Want to Work on Your Computer Hygiene...

Computer Hygiene: Yes, You Want to
Computer Hygiene: Yes, You Want to. Stein / Getty

About.com: where do you suggest that readers go for more information?  Are there some resources online that you can recommend? 

Max Nomad:  The key to privacy and online safety is to treat your activities in cyberspace the same way you approach driving a car; you need to exert yourself to pay attention and do the right things every day.

For anything related to privacy and protecting your rights in the digital world, take a look at this organization: The Electronic Frontiers Foundation. 

http://www.eff.org

 

The Gnu Privacy Guard (OpenPGP encryption):
http://www.gnupg.org

 

Password Managers:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_password_managers

 

Anonymizer Operating Systems:
Whonix: http://www.whonix.org
TAILS: http://tails.boum.org

 

Anonymizer Network:
https://www.torproject.org/

 

Bitcoin (introduction):
https://bitcoin.org/
http://netforbeginners.about.com/od/b/fl/What-Are-Bitcoins-How-Do-Bitcoins-Work.htm

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More About Max Nomad, IT Consultant

Max Nomad, blogger and I.T. consultant
Max Nomad, blogger and I.T. consultant.

Max Nomad is an IT Consultant, Graphic Designer and computer security researcher with over 20 years of experience using internet technology to assist (and protect) small businesses. His advice on IT security has been featured in the Intuit (Quickbooks) Small Business Center, Hackbusters, eComTechnology, Cyber Defense Magazine and Frontline Safety & Security Magazine. He is also the author of Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse: Safer Computing Tips for Small Business Managers and Everyday People. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, he can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/maxnomad.

If you want to reach Max, you can find him on Facebook or LinkedIn:

https://www.facebook.com/ZombieFreeComputers 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/maxnomad