By: David Sewell, President, Sewelltech, Inc

October 20, 2015 2:58 pm EDT
Computer Security

With all the recent news about NSA spying on us, corporate cyber security failures and large-scale hacks, the task of keeping yourself safe online can seem daunting.

Here are some simple tips to keep yourself safe.

1. Use HTTPS Whenever Possible

You can check whether a site offers encryption by looking at the address in your browser and seeing whether it begins with “https”, as opposed to “http” or “www” (the “S” stands for “secure”).

TIP: Install the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension.

HTTPS Everywhere is an add-on for Chrome, Firefox and Opera that ensures that whenever you visit a site that offers data encryption, you’re using it.  The extension can be downloaded for free from the Electronic Frontier Foundation at:

2. Keep Your Software Up To Date

One of the best ways to keep you Mac humming along is you keep you software current and up to date. Now that Apple gives away the newest OS X, you have very few reasons not to upgrade to unless your system does not support it, and then its time to talk about a new Mac.

When companies discover vulnerabilities in their software that hackers can exploit, they send out security patches to solve the problem. It’s definitely an annoyance to have to interrupt your work to download new software and restart your computer. But when the alternative could be getting hacked, it’s a small price to pay.

Editor's Note: Obviously, it's just as important to keep your Windows PC software updated too.

3. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Services like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s Gmail offer a feature known as two-factor authentication, which works with your smartphone to add an extra layer of security when you’re logging in.

After you’ve entered your password, you’re prompted to enter a numeric code that’s sent to your phone via text message or generated by a mobile app. That way, even if someone steals your password, they won’t be able to get into your account unless they also have your phone as well. highlights all the sites that do or do not support two-factor authentication:

4. Browse Anonymously

Surfing without giving away anything about yourself can be simple. Google the words “free secure anonymizing proxy” (no quotes) and experiment with the sites that turn up. A secure anonymizing proxy sits between your browser and the sites you visit. When you use an anonymizing proxy, the proxy server acts as a shield between you and the Internet - it attempts to make your activity on the Internet untraceable.

For a more thorough solution, you can download and use The Onion Router (TOR). This Open Source tool originated as a U.S. Navy project, but now it’s used by all kinds of people worldwide, including the hactivist group Anonymous. When you surf through TOR, your browser’s data requests take a circuitous route through randomly-chosen TOR servers. All traffic is encrypted except the final connection from a TOR server to the actual website. Anyone intercepting a packet along the way won’t learn anything about you or the destination website. You can find the Onion Router (TOR) here:

5. Recognize the Hazards of Connecting to Insecure Public Wi-Fi Networks

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to never do anything you wouldn’t want to share in public when you are connected to insecure public Wi-Fi

When you connect to a public network in a place like a coffee house, hackers who are logged onto the same Wi-Fi network can intercept your Web traffic from unencrypted websites. Sites that begin with “http://” are unencrypted and less safe. Sites that begin with “https://” are encrypted and generally considered more secure. If hackers can see what you’re doing online, your personal details are then up for grabs. For this reason, as we detailed earlier, use HTTPS when ever possible.

Stalker is a tool that was created by the security firm Immunity Inc. to demonstrate the hazards of connecting to insecure public Wi-Fi networks. What Stalker demonstrated is how easy it is to compile a creepy profile of a person, composed entirely of information they’ve unknowingly shared by using public Wi-Fi. Be Scared. And read more about Stalker here:

6. Activate "Find My iPhone" "Activation Lock" in iOS 7 (and in later iOS versions)

Starting with iOS version 7, Find My iPhone includes a new feature called Activation Lock, which is designed to prevent anyone else from using your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch if you ever lose it. It starts working the moment you turn on Find My iPhone in iOS 7. With Activation Lock, your Apple ID and password will be required before anyone can:

  • Turn off Find My iPhone on your device
  • Erase your device
  • Reactivate and use your device

This can help you keep your device secure, even if it is in the wrong hands, and can improve your chances of recovering it. Even if you erase your device remotely, Activation Lock can continue to deter anyone from reactivating your device without your permission. All you need to do is keep Find My iPhone turned on, and remember your Apple ID and password. Setting up a passcode on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac is an important part of protecting your data. Each time you turn on or wake up your device, it will ask you for your passcode before you can use the device. If your device supports Touch ID, you can use your fingerprint instead of a passcode.

Using your passcode

You’ll need to enter your passcode whenever you:

  • Turn on or restart your device
  • Wake your device
  • Unlock the screen

7. Understand That Your Selfies’ Metadata May Be Too Revealing

Beyond revealing what you look like, selfies containing metadata can reveal your exact location — which means the person receiving your selfie can potentially figure out where you live. Metadata can include GPS information, the date and time the photo was taken, and information on how and in what conditions the photos were taken. Programs like Apple’s iPhoto application or Preview can reveal the metadata information.

The primary reason to remove metadata from your selfies is to protect your privacy. For example, if you engage in online dating and you send a selfie to a prospective date, it’s possible that person could figure out your exact location and show up unexpectedly.

When it comes to legal ramifications, selfies have been used to arrest criminals. For example, recently a Burger King employee stood on top of two containers of shredded lettuce, took a pictue of a gross act and then posted it online. It took internet users only 15 minutes to track down and bust this person. The three employees involved in the incident were terminated after a photo with metadata disclosed their location.

To remove the GPS information from your photo, you must change the settings on your camera phone. Here’s how to do it if you have an iPhone:

Open up your settings.

  • Select the Privacy option and choose the Location Services settings.
  • Under Location Settings, you’ll see all the applications on your phone that stores and uses your location information.
  • From that list, select the Camera option and toggle the function to Off.
  • Once the Camera option is turned off under Location Settings, your iPhone won’t store GPS information unless toggle the switch to On again.
  • Depending on the type of camera you have, the instructions for removing metadata will vary.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s). Core Compass’s Terms Of Use applies.

About the author

David Sewell is the President and owner of Sewelltech, Inc., an Apple Value Added Reseller based in Dallas, Texas. David founded Sewelltech in 1994 after graduating the Colorado Institute of Art with a degree in graphic arts and photography where his technical skills lead to being engaged to manage the computer labs. David can be contacted by phone at 214-845-8198 or through the Contact Form on Sewelltech's website.

cybersecurityhackingInternet securityApple devices
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