Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2013

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At MSBA, we generate analytics on how many people visit our website and how they move within the pages, to mention a few. But we continually work to keep your habits just that – your business. We merely use this information to gauge what types of content our members like the most.  We recently began securing the MSBA mailing lists, and security and privacy maintenance is a top priority as we take on the massive job of redesigning and restructuring www.msba.org so to offer more meaningful and easy-to-locate content. Have questions or ideas? Please contact me at troberts@msba.org.

The general rule of thumb when using the Internet falls somewhere along the lines of “Don’t put anything up you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.” This is only truly applicable to personal information, as we do business daily using the Internet, even more so given our connection through some sort of mobile device during all hours of the day.

You may not be posting things to Facebook that would make grandma blush, and you may even have your security settings all figured out so that you can remain as anonymous as possible when it comes to social networks. But all this does not completely add up to privacy.

Ever notice how websites are often displaying ads for some of your favorite online shopping venues? The related links on the last YouTube video you watched? Increasingly, governments worldwide have demanded data on the users of Facebook, Microsoft, Gmail, and Twitter. Do not assume anything on social media is secure and 100 percent private. For example, a recent news story (see “Google: Don’t Expect Privacy When Sending to Gmail” by The Guardian on August 14, 2013) and lawsuit contained Google’s admission that users should not expect privacy when sending to or from Gmail accounts.

Government surveillance within social media and email platforms may be unavoidable – most email services that once touted security and privacy have changed structure and no longer can guarantee privacy for all members. Such is the case of groklaw.com, the legal tech site that recently ceased operations because its email provider, Lavabit, was unable to continue providing secure email services after being caught in the path of the recent Snowden intelligence leak and the NSA. (Allegedly, Snowden used Lavabit’s email services to contact other countries; now the founder of Lavabit has found himself in potential legal and ethical turmoil.)

In today’s society, we’ve become quickly accustomed to constant surveillance. I don’t usually have a problem with this aspect of modern life, but after a while it becomes a little shocking to find out how much the proverbial “big brother” or even marketing companies can find out.

There are, however, a few ways you can improve your privacy while using the Internet on a traditional computer.

First, regardless of what device you are using, connect only to trustworthy wireless signals. Unsecure connections can be hacked much easier than most systems.

Internet marketers track your searches and web visits using small, unnoticeable images called web bugs, also known as a tracking pixel, pixel tag, or clear gif. These are used within webpages to track your clicks and potential interests, and are usually benign and not intrusive. It is not the same as a web cookie, which is a local, encrypted file that is saved to your system, which may hold preferences for specific websites. (However, web bugs can help to determine if cookies may be available for that web page.)

There are some ways of preventing this tracking: one is to not allow your browser to accept cookies, and two is through a few third-party applications. Add-ons are easy to install in your browser and do not come at a detriment to your browsing experience. Just be sure to read reviews and verify the source of the add-on as a reliable one. For instance, I would not likely download an add-on that has less than five reviews or a thousand downloads. You may need administrator approval for these on your work computers, but you can install whatever you need on your personal devices. Just don’t overwhelm yourself with “fun” add-ons. Most browsers have extensive libraries of add-ons so users can custom-tailor their daily browsing experience.

If you use Firefox by Mozilla, open your browser and visit addons.mozilla.org, then click on “Privacy & Security” under the “Catagories” bar. Privacy tools that I like in particular include AdBlock, to prevent advertising tracking; and Ghostery, which detects tracking in embedded Javascript-based web files. BetterPrivacy goes the extra mile in cookie detection and prevention, or try Cookie Control.

For Internet Explorer, try using “Do Not Track Me”, downloaded at www.iegallery.com/addons.  

Google Chrome does gather information about your browsing history – as do your mobile devices that also use Google Services. I typically find this convenient when I am pulling up a navigation map that I searched for a few hours earlier on my desktop computer. However, if this aspect of Google Chrome makes you uncomfortable, visit howtogeek.com for a tutorial that can show you how to use Chrome’s own settings to improve security. Chrome also offers add-ons, or Extensions as Google calls them, at chrome.google.com/webstore. Adblock Plus is also available for Google Chrome to help block known advertising threats. SaferChrome will alert you when using websites that fail to encrypt private information such as passwords or credit cards via the Internet.

Mobile phone privacy has become a large topic as well, one that I will have to save for a later article. But my rule number one is make sure you have a security feature of some sort to unlock your phone and change it regularly. Whether a pin, pattern, or password, you have to remember, this is your first and easiest line of defense against an intruder that may intercept your phone.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2013

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