This is a completely new experience for me. My whole life my work consisted of physically going to my place of employment, and physically performing my job duties as a chef. Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic and all the lockdowns, I am embracing the reality that it might be a long time, if ever, that I am back in the kitchen cooking for clients. I worked freelance as a private chef: families, lodges, ranches, yachts, etc. hired me to cook for vacationing guests. Tourism has hit an all time low, and no one knows if or when it will return to previous levels.
So I decided to be proactive, to embrace the sudden change this disruption has brought. My wife is doing ok. She has a long work history of working in offices and online. She has found a job in the mortgage industry and has transitioned easily. I tried to think of what I loved doing and what I could possibly use as an employable skill moving forward. In school, I did pretty well in creative writing. I am not a “trained” writer, but I love to read and that has helped me tremendously. I figure it is just like anything. With more experience it will become easier and my written work will improve.
That got me thinking. Our whole lives are going to exist online. That means I need to take responsibility to protect my wife and I. The first thing I did was open up our password manager, 1Password, and go through each of the logins to divide them up into two categories: those to keep and those to delete. I was amazed at the number of logins that I had. Also, at the number of ones that I forgot I had signed up for. My wife had a lot as well. According to a very interesting article on password habits the average email address has 130 accounts associated with it, and 1 in 5 American consumers have had an online account compromised. Those are some scary statistics, so I went about the task of deleting the ones that were not necessary. It was a very tedious job. Plus, some accounts could not be deleted or I had to call customer service to do it. They make it easy to sign up for accounts, but difficult to get rid of them. I then went through the accounts that I had saved and changed every password to a unique long one. After all of this my head hurt. It is not a fun task at all, but one that needs to be done as our entire lives are becoming digitized.
The next item on the agenda was to secure our online browsing. I did a lot of research and experimentation. There are a lot of people online that think they know everything about securing your privacy online. It reminded me of when I first moved onto my sailboat and attempted to set it up for safety. Every sailor had “the best anchoring technique” or the “best way to satisfy your power needs”, etc. After sorting through all of the conflicting information I reached a conclusion. The Brave browser is what I recommend to my wife. It is pretty secure and easy to set up. It can be configured in the Settings easily.
First, under the “Look & Feel” section under “Shields” select “Advanced View”. Set “Trackers & Ad Blocking” to “Aggressive”. Turn on “Upgrade Connections to HTTPS”. Turn on the option to “Block Scripts”. “Fingerprint Blocking” to “Strict”. Finally, change the search engine to Duck Duck Go, so you won’t be tracked. These are strict and secure settings, but they can prevent some websites from working. This is easily fixed by clicking the “Brave Shield” in the address bar and adjusting the security settings there. If a website is not working properly, usually it is either the “Script Blocking” function or the “Fingerprint Blocking” function. Firefox can be made more secure, but in order to do that it has to be customized. My wife is not really into learning advanced computer skills, she just wants to be safe. The tradeoff is a bit less security (but still good enough) but ease of use vs a bit more security and an involved setup process. I would say that if it isn’t easy to do, it probably won’t be done. People have tons of things going on and want to focus on them, not learning an intimidating new language or how to make a computer function how you want it to.
One last thing. Email. We don’t give much thought to email, but we should. Traditional email (Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo, etc) is not encrypted and can be intercepted by people doing bad things. An easy way to combat this is to encrypt your email. Once again, you can do it yourself (like hardening a Firefox browser) by setting up PGP keys to encrypt your email or you can take the easier solution by using an already encrypted email service. The one that I use is ProtonMail. It is free to get an email address. They also have payment tiers based on the number of email addresses you want and if you need the email addresses for business. On top of all this they also offer a VPN (Virtual Private Network), a necessity for secure online browsing. The VPN hides your IP address (how your computer connects to the internet). It can be used to prevent others from tracking you online or for unlocking content restricted from your physical location, for example Netflix.
I know this is a lot of information to be bombarded with, but I have done the searching and experimentation for you. My wife asks me to research something and summarize the results to her since she gets overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. For some reason the tidal wave of information doesn’t seem to bother me. I am like a bloodhound. She sets me loose on a scent and I go get it. To summarize, if you use a PASSWORD MANAGER, BRAVE BROWSER (with the recommended tweaks), PROTONMAIL and PROTONVPN your privacy and security should be ensured. These tools will work on either Windows or Mac. For Linux, Keepassxc is a good password manager. Just remember technology is constantly evolving, so that means your security precautions need to evolve as well. Never fear though. I will be here to distill everything down to actionable ways to protect yourself.