This time last year, the most significant security threat to most users came from sharing too much personal information on Facebook. However, with the current NSA scandal showing everyone just how unsafe our private information really is, the focus has shifted. Privacy for personal data is now the hot topic and that includes cloud storage, personal PCs, smart devices, and cell phones. You can tell the shift to stronger security has been made when novice PC users are researching encryption.
If you are like most PC users, you have reviewed your system's security and made the intelligent changes necessary to protect your persona data. The question now becomes, are there further steps to be taken? Can your good security protocols be made better? Below are a number of recommended steps to tighten-up security and protect the data important to you.
Enable Automatic Software Updates
This step cannot be overhyped. If you want to provide your systems with the best level of security available, you must start with the operating system. Most major operating system providers take the security of their systems very seriously. Same day patching and exploit updates will be made available automatically for the most significant threats. You may think that you can stay up on the threats made to your OS, but when it comes to zero-day exploits, having automatic updates enabled can be a life saver.
Enabling automatic updates is fairly simple on Windows based machines. Just open up your Control Panel and select System and Security. In the System and Security panel, click on "Turn automatic update on and off" and select "Install updates automatically."
Disable The Webcam
The wonders of web-based communication systems have provided many users with an integrated and low-cost way to stay in touch with the people they care about. Unfortunately, these same integrated webcams allow unscrupulous hackers to monitor users covertly. Do not be fooled by the webcam activity light either. Techniques have been discovered that allow hackers to activate webcams without showing any indication that the webcam is on or being used.
Disable the webcam from in your Device Settings if you do not plan to use it. However, if you are planning on making use of the webcam, the simplest way to protect your privacy while having the webcam available is to cover it with black tape. If you are worried that the adhesive will damage the webcam, consider using a dark piece of paper or cardboard to cover the lens while affixing it with tape.
Disable The Built-in Microphone
Just like the webcam, the built-in microphone on your laptop PC is a target for malicious hackers. The built-microphone is normally enabled by default and must be manually disabled to remove the hacking opportunity.
In order to manually disable the built-in laptop microphone, activate your "Sound" program from the Control Panel. Choose the Recordings tab, select the built-in microphone installed on your laptop, and then disable it.
Unfortunately, if a hacker gains access to your laptop, the microphone can be easily enabled. Make a habit of checking the status of the microphone.
Encrypt Your Hard Drive
Using encryption on a storage drive will provide you with the most secure data storage available, as long as the encryption key is safe and private. Encryption takes the data on your storage drive and then runs it through an algorithm that distorts data according to the security key. Without the security key, the data on your drive will be nothing more than useless gibberish. The drawback to using encryption on a PC drive is when the encryption key is forgotten or lost: the hard drive becomes unusable and must be recovered (if possible) or thrown away. Good encryption is an all or nothing security feature.
There are several open-source encryption systems available to use, including Truecrypt, GPG, and TAILS. Keep in mind that most encryption programs are meant for more advanced users and can be complex.