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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Computers: Safe & Stealthy

Yesterday, at a lunch with several trans friends, we had a discussion about the need for two "selves", or "spirits" as Halle might say, within one computer. Our male self and our female self. If the computer is shared in the household, with the family, it may not necessarily be a good thing for the kids to discover that Dad or Mom have another identify representing the opposite gender.


A few weeks ago, Lynn Jones, of the fab Yet Another T Girl Blog, sent me a guest post, and I was reminded of this when we had the conversation yesterday. It's worth reading, since Lynn is arguably somewhat of a geek and may actually know of what she speaks, and it's a subject we have never touched on at T-Central.



If you’re reading this,chances are it’s on a computer, or a smartphone, and, you will be leaving some fingerprints, as it were. Now, for most of our day to day web searching, we’re probably not too bothered. If I Google for a local restaurant, I’m not fussed if my co-worker sees that, or my kids see it in my search history. But, if I searched ‘how to come to terms with being trans’, or ‘how to apply false eyelashes’, I’d probably be a bit more concerned.

So, how do I keep my search history and Internet use apart? That’s the question I’m hoping to answer in today’s post. It will be a little technical, but with a spot of web searching, you’ll no doubt find your way around, pretty quickly.

I’d like to add that these aren’t massively in depth, you will need to do some extra searching and possibly a bit of thinking, over what is right for you. I’m not here to tell

you what to do, but to sow some seeds, and get you thinking.

Still with me? Let’s get started!

The Basics

We’ll start with the basics; browsers. You can probably list off a few of them: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari. Picking one is a bit like choosing a car. They all pretty much do the same thing, but they do some things better than their rivals, and other things not so well. But, all of them, do leave some history behind and flushing your history at every turn can become a bit of a pain.

Tip One: A Second Browser

So, here’s Tip One: use a second browser. If your Internet world revolves around Chrome, or IE, download and install Firefox or Opera. You could delete it from the desktop to make it a little harder for people to find. By using a second browser, you are keeping your Internet use separate.

Sure, you’re still downloading things to the same desktop (be careful of that), but if you have two social media profiles - one for ‘her’ / one for ‘him’ - this keeps the two apart. It will also mean as browse the web, any adverts that pick up where you’ve been, are likely to be kept in their respective browser.

Now, anyone poking around your desktop, may stumble across this and if they launch it, maybe they’ll find something they didn’t expect.

Next step: Search for another browser and install it to your system.

What about Smartphones?

There are also extra browsers for smartphones too. Android has Chrome, which is preinstalled, but there’s also Firefox, Boat, Dolphin, Opera and Lightning, to name but a few. Apple’s iPhone comes with Safari as standard, although there’s also Dolphin, Opera and Chrome.

You can get app locking software, which will stop an application from being opened, unless you can enter a passcode. These are great for keeping your kids - or relatives :-) - from installing junk software. They are also great in protecting your second browser, from unauthorized access. If anyone asks, tell them it’s for Internet security, like banking or suchlike.

Tip Two: Portable Browsers

Most software, and certainly on WIndows and Apple Macs, needs to be installed. By that, I mean you download a program, and then run a SETUP program, which puts all the right bits in all the right places. This is okay if you want to keep a program on your computer, but there are occasions, when you can’t load stuff onto a computer. Maybe you don’t want to leave any junk behind, or maybe you are not allowed to put software on. Say, like a computer a work.

Some bright sparks worked out a way of making some software portable. If you search for ‘Portable Apps’, you’ll find various programs, that can be kept on a USB pen,, or kept stashed on a hard disk.

How does this apply to you? Well, software from a portable app, doesn’t really show up on a computer. There’s no desktop or Start Menu links. You have to go digging for it. So, for our purposes, we could download - say Firefox Portable - and do one of three things with it:

  1. We could let the portable program expand itself to a folder buried deep in your documents. This makes it harder for people to find it.
  2. We could expand the program into a folder on the desktop and then ‘zip’ that folder up with a password and rename it, to hide it further.
  3. We could let the program expand itself to a USB drive (and you’ll need a fast one, for this). This lets you stash the USB stick somewhere safe.

Next Steps: Try searching for ‘Portable Apps’ or ‘Portable apps for Macs’ for more information. Once you’ve found an app you like, give it a spin and see if it works for you. When you’re happy with it, find out how to hide the folder deep within your existing documents, or even a USB pen.

Tip Three: Encryption

There’s been a lot in the news about people encrypting their smartphones. You can, should you feel the need, use something like TruCrypt, to create a hidden and encrypted folder, on your computer. Here, you can keep all your photos and Portable Apps, safe. Just, don’t forget the password!

Once you’ve got TruCrypt up and running, you can go ahead and expand a Portable App into it. When you close down TruCrypt the browser will effectively vanish from your computer.

Next steps: Search TruCrypt and read up on the subject, to see if this is for you.

Tip Four: Hidden Users

When you log on to your computer, you are using a ‘user account’. It’s a way of keeping all your settings and preferences away from another person. This is a great way to allow a computer to be used by different people, but not mess up everyone’s wall paper.

If you don’t fancy installing extra software, or using a USB pen, this is another option for you. We’ve already read that It’s best practice to give everyone in your family their own profile. It means everyone's bookmarks, or favourites, are kept apart, and there can be no accidental logging in to the wrong Facebook account, either.

Tim, those muffins you baked last week looked awesome. Oh, sorry. Did Barbara use your account again?” :-)

Macs, Windows, Linux and Chromebooks can all have extra profiles. Why not create one that sounds a bit computery? Maybe ‘backup’ or ‘systemX’? Given it a strong password, that you can remember, and you can log in as this, rather than your regular account.

The upside of this, is that your computer’s security will take care of keeping your data and Internet use hidden. You can also hide this account, so it cannot be seen during the normal log on process.

The downside, is that you may have to log in and out, to jump between different profiles. That is, unless you’re willing to master something like ‘Run As’, which can be tricky.

Next Steps:

Tip Five: Virtual Machines

Without going into great depth, and this is probably something for the wizkids out there, you could run a second ‘virtual computer’ on your existing one. This doesn’t mean wiping your existing machine, or installing extra hard disks. Instead, you use something like VMware Player, Parallels or VirtualBox. These programs allow you to run an extra operating system - like Windows, or Linux - on your computer at the same time. I’m paraphrasing here and a good Search through Google, or otherwise, will tell you more. Anyhoo, this lets you keep a dedicated computer to yourself, so there’s a low risk of someone getting into it.

Conclusion

The thing with any of these tips, is that they are just that: tips. They’re not cast iron solutions and someone with good IT skills, will find a way to get around what you’ve done. Maybe someone will find the Portable App, or maybe you’ll leave the USB pen lying around. We’re all human and we all make mistakes.

It’s also worth mentioning backups. It’s about exciting as tax returns, I know, but if you’ve built up a collection of photos, or emails; do think about how to keep them safe. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, iDrive or OneDrive, can all be used to store your files on-line. If you’re troubled by the idea of them being accessed, services such as Backblaze, Carbonite, Crashplan or  SpiderOak (there are others), can help you encrypt and keep your data safe off your computer (http://bit.ly/1fwioFm)

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