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Maximum security: Essential tools for everyday encryption

Fahmida Y. Rashid | Dec. 15, 2015
Thanks to technical advances and increased adoption, securing your data and communications is a lot easier than you might think.

Encrypting your Internet connection

Websites are increasingly using HTTPS to help protect data sent from users’ computers to their servers. Credit card information typed into a Web form is transferred through an encrypted channel to the retailer’s server, so any attackers who might be monitoring the traffic won’t know what was sent. But that's only the start.

With the ubiquity of public Wi-Fi -- in airports, coffee shops, parks, and even the New York subway -- it’s easy to forget why hopping online isn’t always the best idea. Attackers can easily intercept data traveling to and from your device regardless of what online services you access. Here, encrypting your Internet connection via a virtual private network such as F-Secure’s Freedome service, NordVPN, or CyberGhostVPN can make that data useless to eavesdroppers.

Most of us are familiar with VPN as software that comes installed on our work computers to enable us to access corporate applications. VPN services, on the other hand, let users establish an encrypted tunnel with a third-party server, then access the Internet through that tunnel. When a user in California connects to Facebook through a VPN service in France, as far as Facebook is concerned, that user is from France, not California. This is a great way to conduct online banking from an airport, as the VPN service encrypts the connection, preventing anyone from eavesdropping on your banking activity.

Then there is Tor, which grants complete anonymity on the Internet. It relies on a multilayered, onionlike security mechanism that bounces communications around multiple nodes to hide its origin. Not only does Tor prevent surveillance, it also prevents sites from tracking users. You can even access Facebook via Tor. Users new to Tor can go with the Tor Browser to get started. Orbot is a Tor proxy for Android from The Guardian Project.

Encrypting your email

Of all forms of modern communication, email is perhaps the most sensitive. Your email inbox can contain bank statements, bills from various services and retailers, tax-related documents, as well as personal messages. Information about who you are talking to, what you are talking about, or even when you are sending email can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Law enforcement can also subpoena copies of mail stored on mail servers, so sending encrypted blobs of text ensures the only eyes to see your messages are those you authorize.

Secure email service such as Hushmail and GhostMail promise built-in encryption. When you send an email to another member, the service encrypts the contents of your message before delivering it. If you want to send a message to a recipient who is not on Hushmail, your message can be encrypted with a secret Q&A combination. The recipient will need to know the answer to the question to decrypt the message. These services handles the keys in the background, making the process seamless for users.


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