Beware Ransomware

I’ve just had to deal with a bout of Cryptowall ransomware – it’s not pretty. So any headline with the word ransomware catches my attention.   This was in the Nov 27 ResearchBuzz – many thanks.

Ransomware is spreading via images on Web sites. “‘Locky’ ransomware was first discovered earlier this year. As the name implies, it locks up a victim’s computer by encrypting their files and demanding a ransom of .5 bitcoins (about $365) in exchange for a key. Earlier this week, Hacker News reported that a Facebook spam campaign was spreading Locky through image files in the SVG format. At the time, Facebook denied that this was happening. Now, security firm Check Point says that Locky is being embedded into several graphic formats and spread through ‘social media applications such as Facebook and LinkedIn.’”

VPN and the Opera Browser

People concerned about privacy online might want to  check this news that the  Opera browser has a built-in virtual private network (VPN).

Opera browser now has a built-in VPN, and it’s powered by this Toronto company, CanTech Letter (Sept 20)

Oslo-based browser company Opera Software has implemented a free VPN directly in Opera 40, allowing users to create secure connections to one of Opera’s five global servers, located in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Singapore, and the Netherlands, to choose their location while using the Internet.

Not mentioned in this announcement is that a Chinese consortium bought the mobile and desktop versions of the browser in July. Chinese consortium buys Opera browser for $600 mn Phys.org (July 18) – Hmm – something to watch.

Searching privately

Helen Brown gives us a good reason to use a search engine that does not track searches or pitch ads – Because it’s none of their business (Sept 8).  Of importance to the professional researcher, the filtering done by search and ranking algorithms may cloud results. Solution – use tools that don’t track but do have a broad reach. She offers a comparison of 13 search engines that indicates for an engine whether there are ads, personalized results, or  tracking.

Some to particularly note are:

Disconnect Search – web version of browser add-on. Operates through a proxy server to direct your queries to the search engine and the results back to you. See short video about the browser add-on. Also – more about Disconnect in Information Week — Disconnect Search: Google In Private (Mar 2014)

Duckduckgo – Bing-based but more of a meta search engine. Does not log any personally identifiable information.

Startpage – does not store personal history. But even more valuable is that  search results can be viewed  through the IxQuick Proxy. See StartPage Proxy Explained.

Oscobo in the UK claims to store no personal data. I suspect the web search results come from the Bing database. It also searches Twitter.

I have also used Carrot2, a meta-search engine developed in Europe (mostly Poland) that clusters search results by topic. Its web search uses Google and Bing. Carrot2 doesn’t promise privacy but as an intermediary it blocks personalization.

But for full privacy you may want to consider access through a virtual private network. Paul Gil at About.com explains why — 10 Reasons to Use a VPN for Private Web Browsing

My Activity at Google

There may be some advantages to being able to see your activity on all the Google properties – and on pages that serve up Google ads. This would especially be the case if you are researching a topic across media and need to keep a trail. Or you need to confirm something you found earlier.

Google’s new My Activity page lets you see all your Google history in one place, Napier Lopez, The Next Web (June 28)

Nonetheless, it’s a bit scary to realize that Google could track all activity rather than just web search and therefore deliver more ads. But it might also be true that the ads will be better directed. “Mainly, you can control which kind of ads show up everywhere, across various devices and websites.”

You can find this through “My Account” – or go directly to https://myactivity.google.com/

Your privacy settings at Google

Google has made it easier to review the information that Google displays about you – and for you to change the detail.

Search on your name to see a small knowledge panel with the profile information and a button to update the profile. Also sign into your Google accound and click on your name in upper right to get to a full page in reasonably clear English on Google’s policy, and to My Account where you can easily turn public into private.

Googling yourself will soon lead to personal privacy controls, Michael Liedtke, AP via Globe and Mail (Jun 2)

Do Not Track Search

Hongkiat has compiled a list of search engines that don’t track your search activity — 12 Private Search Engines that Do Not Track You (May ). A list of these is always handy but,  as mentioned at Research Buzz,  “do your own due diligence”. Not all of these are top notch.

  • DuckDuckGo is an excellent search engine.
  • A couple on this list are using Google Custom Search – which is ok.
  • Yippy has some interesting features but is not forthright in showing the sources of its results and it truncates the results.
  • Hulbee looks interesting. It does some analysis of results to pick out key words that may represent concept or topic.

Firefox’s control center

If you are concerned about privacy when browsing, it will be worth while reading about the control center in the Firefox browser regarding protection against tracking and adjusting permissions.

Control Center – manage site privacy and security controls

The Control Center panel opens when you click the Site Info button button in the address bar. It lets you manage security and privacy settings for a website in one place. Use the Control Center to view information about a site and to make choices about site permissions, trackers or insecure content.

Digital Afterlife

What do you want done with your online accounts? Add this to writng your last will and testament:  At Google you can make arrangements for your Google services through Account Manager.

How to prepare for your digital afterlife, CNet (Mar 2)

Google doesn’t explicitly talk death, but they do let you decide what happens to your Google accounts — Gmail, Photos, Google Drive, etc — when you haven’t signed into your Google account for a period of time. Google lets you add up to 10 friends and family members who will be notified if your account is inactive for a certain amount of time, and who will (with your permission) be able to download data from your accounts for three months.

It’s hard to find — sign into your Google account, click on your picture for Profile, find My Account, scroll to Personal info and privacy, click on “control your content”, and “assign an account trustee”. Then answer the questions.

Searching Google’s Country Versions

Google is making it harder to search country versions of its databases other than your own.

Google Drops Change Location Search Filter From Search Results, Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land (Dec 1)

Schwartz reported, ” A Google spokesperson told us this feature was intentionally removed last week. Google said, “it was getting very little usage, so we’re focusing on other features.””

Which I find infuriating. Low use for removing a feature is not a good reason.

Alternatives

There is still the Chrome extension for SEO Global search.

For general use, try Disconnect – search.disconnect.me – it ensures anonymity and you can adjust the country.

Firefox private browsing

Firefox has added new privacy protection, anti-tracking tools.

Firefox keeps your browsing truly private with new Tracking Protection feature, PCWorld (Nov 3)

The new feature is an enhancement to Firefox’s Private Browsing mode, which deleted users’ browsing history and cookies after they closed a private window. Tracking Protection adds an extra layer of privacy to that by blocking code embedded in websites that tracks the way people behave around the Web. That means it will block a lot of ads, along with analytics tools and some social sharing buttons in order to help users keep their browsing habits more closely under wraps.