The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.News stories over the past few months about the possibly unconstitutional actions of the National Security Agency (NSA) should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. Yes, there are many people and organizations trying to obtain information about you. From hackers in third-world countries, to companies trying to sell you products, to semi-secret agencies of the U.S. Government, it seems as if nearly everyone is trying to find information about you. An article I mentioned in yesterday's newsletter (at http://goo.gl/0C2ais) asks the question, “Is it Safe to Trust the Cloud?” Indeed, many people seem to have a phobia about storing their personal information on servers on the Internet.
What saddens me most of all is that the entire issue is so easily avoided: encrypt the information. When you leave your house, I suspect you lock the door. When you leave your automobile in a parking lot, you probably lock it up, too. The same should be true with your information. When you leave your information unattended, whether it is in your home when you are not present or stored someplace in the cloud, you should lock it up.
Simply put, encryption programs scramble data within the file or files that you specify so that no one else can access that data without the key that you keep. Security is under your control at all times because you have the key and you decide who gets copies of that key. Encryption is easy to do, requiring only a few seconds, and (in many cases) it is free of charge.
I know that I am paranoid about security, but I worry about my personal information wherever it is stored–online or on flash drives. I also worry about data stored on my computer at home. There are thousands of hackers around the world running automated scripts that attempt to connect to individual in-home computers to access information, even information that is not stored in the cloud. This remote access is easy to block, but many people don't know how to do that.
Even higher risk is in-home physical access. Sure, I trust my family members with any information I have, but do I trust their friends who visit our home? Do I trust the plumbers, the electricians, the locksmith, the delivery drivers, and others who enter my home, sometimes when I am not there? They could easily access my computer, even if for only a few seconds.
I used to have a job fixing computers in homes and in offices. In more than one case I found viruses had been introduced to computers by babysitters. These same babysitters obviously had easy access to the entire computer's contents and could easily have copied information to a flash drive or sent it by email to another computer anywhere in the world. In most cases, the babysitters had plenty of time to do this.
I no longer have any need to employ babysitters or pet sitters, but perhaps you do. If so, you need to ask yourself if you trust that babysitter or pet sitter with all your secrets.
One simple solution will eliminate all this worry: encryption will lock out prying eyes from your data on your own computer at home as well as protect data stored on flash drives, on web servers, in the cloud, or elsewhere.
Who cares if someone gets their hands on your encrypted files? Assuming the encryption is performed with current, state-of-the art software, nobody can read your encrypted files without knowing those magic characters that will unscramble the files–the encryption key. (NOTE: Multi-bit encryption keys are very different from simple passwords.) Luckily, there are dozens of encryption programs to choose from, and many of them are available free of charge.
Encryption is used by the military, civilian governments, and corporations to keep secret information just that: secret. The U.S. military uses advanced cryptography techniques to document war plans, inventories of atomic bombs, intelligence information, flight plans of bombers, and similar secrets. The banking industry uses encryption to safely transfer billions of dollars every day. If encryption meets the needs of these organizations, it will work for you.
What happens if a hacker later obtains a copy of my encrypted file? Nothing.
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