Six Tips for Online Privacy

With the recent exposing of the National Security Agency’s controversial server surveillance program—which allows the government access to user date on at last nine major websites—online security is on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, as web users now wholly married to “cloud” services—and it’s estimated there’s more than one billion currently—there’s not much we can do to keep the NSA from having unfettered access to our files, photos, financial records and more.

But short of going off the grid to a pre-Internet existence, there are a few things you can do to get at least a modicum of privacy. And by decreasing the amount of personal data you’ve stored on-line, you may just be able to effectively “de-cloud” yourself.

  1. Whereas cloud-based applications like Dropbox and Google Drive are infinitely convenient, they’re also easy to track by motivated parties. Save files to your hard drive instead, and consider the built-in, password-protected disk encryption programs like FileVault for Mac and Enterprise, Ultimate and BitLocker for Windows. Or download a free third-party program like TrueCrypt.
  2. Use a locally installed email program like Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird of Apple Mail rather a web-based version. That will keep your messages out of the cloud, and you can encrypt your emails with a program like GNU Privacy Guard or Claws Mail.
  3. It’s estimated that 61 percent of users bank online, which, while incredibly convenient, also means more of your personal data can be mined. Switch back to paper banking if you can.
  4. Posting and viewing photos on a website like Flickr is fast and fun…and very easy to track. Store your pics on a desktop app instead.
  5. On-line word processing programs like Google Docs and Adobe Buzzword are great for easy multi-party collaboration, but are also easy to view. Go back to a locally stored program like Microsoft Word.
  6. Instead of shuffling files through email or Dropbox, use an encrypted USB thumb drive and move data manually between machines.

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