Regaining Your Online Privacy

For years I’ve advocated the user of numerous tools and/or services individuals and households can use to bolster their online privacy, but I’ve never written about them. I’ve heard a lot of people saying “We live in a post-Snowden era”, which is true. But what does that mean and how do we regain even the tiniest bit of privacy?  Earth’s reaction to the Snowden revelation varied. Many individuals already believed this type of state sponsored surveillance had been in place for many years, and this only confirmed their suspicions. Some were truly shocked. Others still live in a state of denial. One of the many things to come from the leaked information was an increase in the number of services designed to block ads, encrypt your connections to websites or services, and not log where you’ve been.

Let’s go over a few of them!

Note: Under no circumstances am I an expert in cryptography, network security, nor am I advocating the use of any security/privacy service mentioned in this post, this blog, or anywhere else on the internet to conceal your illegal activities on the internet.

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Overhauling my home network with gear from Ubiquiti Networks

As the Internet has become more pervasive, the routers we place in our homes have evolved to keep up with the ever growing demands of our phones, tablets, and IoT device families. Unfortunately, for me, they aren’t evolving fast enough and if there were ever a time to shout “Get off my lawn you whippersnappers!”, now would be it. It would seem the consumer and even small business flavor of routers have led to nothing but frustration and disappointment for me.

A few days ago, the air interface on our Linksys WRT1900AC router died.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘air interface’, it refers to the wireless radio inside of the router or wireless access point (WAP) which broadcasts the signal your laptop, phone, and/or tablets use to connect without wires. It comprises layers 1 and 2 of the OSI model, physical and data link.
The router was a few months older than the 1 year warranty it was given. We have no idea why it died, it’s well ventilated, never abused (physically, of course), and generally performed well. We had been contemplating moving the router to the center of the house for better WiFi coverage, but really, it’s been solid. Nice for a Linksys product. But, all that glitters is not gold and we’ve been without WiFi for nearly two weeks. Before you ask, no, it’s not brought our family closer, in fact, we have wires everywhere. It looks like a data center exploded.

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Troubleshooting those pesky Blue Screens of Death!

We’ve all experienced it, the dreaded blue screen of death. With the dawn of Windows 7, these have become less prevalent, however they can (and do) still happen. Is it really the fault of Microsoft?Windows-Blue-Screen-Crash I say nay nay!

Generally speaking, Windows 7, 8/.1, and the upcoming Windows 10, will only display a stop error (aka a BSOD, blue screen of death) when a hardware issue has occurred. Unlike previous versions of Windows, where a single application crash or freeze could take out your entire system, this is now a thing of the past.

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Is your smartphone embedding location info with your pics?

Modern smartphones have a GPS chip capable of inserting coordinates of your location when you take pictures. Some people find this handy, it can help automate the construction of libraries based on places, instead of library names or dates. Personally, I don’t like it. After all, if I share a file with someone at my work or the random internet, personal information may be embedded into the image.

It’s called EXIF Data, you can read the technical schematics here; but for now, just know it stands for “exchangeable image file format” and affords a way for tags like audio and location information to be attached to an image in one single file. Metadata from your camera such as:

  • Data/time
  • Camera settings (ISO, Zoom, etc)
  • Thumbnail for preview on the camera’s LCD screen
  • Copyright information
  • Geolocation

Not only do regular smartphones do this, but your average camera is likely capable of embedding this information into your pictures. If you’re security/privacy conscious, it’s handy to know how to disable this.

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