Online Privacy – Why is it important and how do I keep my information private?

Online Privacy – Why is it important and how do I keep my information private?

There has been a lot of buzz recently about online privacy, however; this is not a new issue by any means. Online privacy has been a concern for years. Go do a quick google search for online privacy and you will see articles from 2010, 2008, etc. discussing the issue. What is new is that thanks to our government your ISP (company you buy your internet from i.e. Verizon, charter, time warner, etc.) will be allowed to sell your browsing habits. So first, why does this matter?

For the most part, it doesn’t. A large percent of what we do online is harmless. For example, me searching for a new video game in google will tell amazon I want that game. And ads on Facebook will be for that game. Kind of cool in a sense that the internet knows what I want. This is also scary. Imagine that you think you are sick with a disease, and now amazon, google, health insurance companies, life insurance companies, future/current employers, know about it. The real question though is, should anyone be able to see what you are doing online? Is it their right? Should your ISP be able to spy on you? If you say OK, I would ask, would you allow your mortgage company to come in your house and go through your drawers? Because that is essentially what is happening. So yes, it is a concern and should be to anyone.

So, what can you do to prevent this from happening? There are a number of things and I am going to break this up so that it’s easier to understand. The important thing to remember is that you are never going to be 100% secure. But you can take steps to make it harder for anyone to spy on you. Think of it like an onion, the closer you are to the middle, the harder it is to get to you. The outer layers (i.e. no security) are easy to get to but several layers in takes more work. Also, keep in mind I am not discussing Malware, Viruses, etc here, I have other blog posts about that but I do always recommend antivirus software, malware software, and a good firewall.

To stop your ISP from spying on you (to stop just facebook/browser scroll down to the end):

For your computer/browser (for most home users):

Step 1 – get a VPN.

VPN – This is the first thing you need. I am not going to explain what a VPN is, just that it makes it so that your ISP (or job) cannot see what you are doing. They can only see that you are connected and using data. Now, the issue with VPN is that the VPN company can see what you are doing. So yes, they can sell your data just like your ISP. But I trust them more and most do not sell your data, just the shady bad ones do. However, keep in mind if you are doing something illegal, the VPN company will turn your information over to authorities if they are subpoenaed – no one is going to jail for you.

There are tons of options for paid and free ones. I personally like Hotspot shield, CyberGhost, and Windscribe because they have free versions. Here is a link to them:

Step 2 – Start using Firefox.

Why? Because of the security and add-ons. Once you download Firefox, you need to install the following add-ons. They are: HTTPS Everywhere and 1 of the privacy/adblock addons I explained below. They will not affect your browsing experience, they will however make it much more secure. Additionally, use the private browsing mode of the browser.

And do these:

  1. Add NoScript, uBlock, Disconnect, or Privacy Badger to your Firefox add-ons. This prevents only scripts that you allow. I personally use uBlock and Privacy Badger together.
  2. Use DuckDuckGo search engine. This is a search engine that does not record/track your searches. You can very easily make this your default browser by going to your browser settings and its just as good as Google.

For the most secure (for people who are more technically inclined):

Use Tor Browser. Tor browser with its default settings is going to be super secure. Its slower because of how it works to hide your identity but if you are searching things no one can know about, use this.

Download Tor Client. Tor is the best security that most home users can set up themselves. If you are a super high tech person and want something more secure you already know way more than what I am blogging about and shouldn’t even be reading this so this post is not for you.

For your mobile device:

  1. Get a VPN. There are tons of free ones. You can use hotspot shield as I mentioned above. I use X-VPN on IOS. Keep it on always.
  2. For android, get Firefox browser and use the add-ons I mentioned above. Use private mode.
  3. For apple, use Firefox Focus browser. Apple does not allow Firefox add-ons, so use their focus browser. It’s actually much fast than any other mobile browser.
  4. Use DuckDuckGo search engine. This is a search engine that does not record/track your searches.
  5. Use the web version of apps, not the apps themselves. For example, use facebook in the browser, rather than the app. Yea I know a big pain.

For those that want to be super secure, use a Tor browser. While there is no official mobile Tor browser there are tons that are free ones that use the Tor network. I personally have Onion browser for my iPhone.

To stop facebook and other internet companies like google, amazon, etc from spying on you:

1. You can always just not use the internet but come on…

2. Start using Firefox.

Why? Because of the security and add-ons. Once you download Firefox, you need to install the following add ons: uBlock and you can add Privacy Badger if you want double protection. Keep in mind, when using these add ons that some websites, like your online bank, might not work correctly, so if a site isn’t working correctly, you can simply turn them off for that site with the click of a button. It will remember, so its only the first time you visit that site.

3. Use DuckDuckGo search engine. This is a search engine that does not record/track your searches. You can very easily make this your default browser by going to your browser settings and its just as good as Google.

Computer Adware, Viruses, Malware, and Security

Have problems with any of these? Here is a list of steps and freeware you should use to fix and protect your machine. Please note this is for PC only and all software is free:

1. Run rKill – This will stop all of the bad stuff from running so that you can run other software to delete it.

2. Run Malwarebytes and Ad-Aware

3. Run Combofix

4. Run Antivirus and keep it installed/running – ClamAv

5. Install security and keep it installed/running – Zonealarm

Once you have scanned your computer with the first 4 it should be clear. I would then recommend step 5 and keep it running on default settings. Also keep ClamAV running. The others should be run and used as there are problems on your machine.


Firefox Mobile OS

This is something I am quite excited for as its made using HTML5. Firefox OS has an opportunity to really show how awesome FF is. Now, what I would really like to see is firefox to make a PC OS. From Mozilla “Firefox OS is an open source mobile operating system which uses Linux and Mozilla’s Gecko engine to run a user interface and set of applications written entirely in HTML, CSS and JavaScript.” What does this mean? You will be able to build Apps for firefox using HTML5, no more Xcode or Eclipse. Now sure you can build HTML5 apps for apple and google by exporting them via phonegap to xcode/eclipse however this OS is designed for HTML5. Very exciting.

Link to firefox os

Information for developers

Simulator where you can build and test your apps for firefox OS

An article discussing some of the advantages and disadvantages of firefox mobile (although more towards the negative side)

First firefox phones sell out

Bringing gaming engines to the web: Mozilla and Unreal

This is pretty cool and definitely where we are going in terms of gaming. Bringing game engines to the web means you can play high end games in your browser, which means cross compatibility across devices. Now what they need to do is bring games like WOW to the browser. For those that do not know Unreal is a gaming engine and Mozilla is the company that brings us Firefox. This will definitely be something that is explored in my gaming class next year!

Link to unreal

Article 1, Article 2

phpBB forum security: How do I keep out spam?

This is a problem most of us who run any kind of database run into. How do I keep out spam? Of course there is an easy solution which is that you as a moderator approve each user request that comes in to determine if its a real person or bot but who has time for that? I know I do not. That is a full time job when you are running several applications requiring user registration – especially when 1000s of bots would try to register each day. So here are the things you can do, and these are specifically for phpBB forums but can be used for any software that requires registration and I am going to say whether these things are effective or not:

Non effective ways to prevent spam (bots just tear right through these but they still might help a little bit. Just do NOT rely on these):

– Email activation
– Captchas (the images where you write the numbers/letters that you see in the box)
– Asking for special characters on username/password
– Confirming email address

Effective ways to prevent spam

– Few registration attempts – this gives the bot less times to guess
– Questions – this will pretty much stop all spam. You need to ask questions that the computer will not know. Please not that bots have lists of 1000s of questions so you need to ask questions that are specific to your site only but is easy enough for your user base to answer. 2+2 is not good. But the last name of the author of this blog is ____, would be a good question. I have found these block nearly 100% of my spam. If you do start getting spam that means your questions are too easy.
– Using a service like akismet, which is awesome but doesnt currently have a plugin for phpBB. This works great for wordpress though.

So how do you add those questions in phpBB to prevent spam? There are two way and I encourage you to do both:

Method 1:

in the Admin control panel go to->spambot countermeasures->available plugins->Q&A->configure. From here you would create your questions.

Method 2:

In the admin control panel go to->users and groups->custom profile fields->then you would create a new field. From here make sure you require the question at registration.

For an example of a forum using these methods, check out my surfing forum and try to register:

Setting up a web forum on your website

So you have a website and want to set up a place where people can chat with each other. One of the best ways to do this is with a web forum as can be seen on my surfing website here. These forums can be very easy to set up but can become very difficult depending on how many modifications you want done to them. In order to run a web forum on your website you need a few things. Those include your web domain of course, a database (usually provided by your web hosting company), and the information from your database like the master username and password. Once you have all of that information you need to pick your forum. There are two forums that I recommend, one is vBulletin and is the best paid forum software. It costs $250 and does quite a bit. It requires very little technical skill to set up or to use the advanced features. The second I recommend and use myself is called phpBB. This is opensource so it is 100% free. Just like vBulletin it is very easy to use and set up. phpBB get complicated when you start doing advanced things. But it does do everything that vBulletin does it just requires more technical skill to do all of it. But setting each up and getting them up and running is no different. Those are the main differences between these two software packages (very high level differences).

Once you have decided which forum you want, you install it on your database. Once installed you will log in as an administrator and set up your forums and take special time to set up security measures like a captcha and such. Now that you are there your community is ready to communicate. You may notice that no one jumps the gun and begins to use it. Many forums go unused. People like to talk on a forum that is active because usually they lurk at first and just read posts before feeling comfortable enough to speak. So a little trick that is not fun but IS necessary – talk to yourself for a while on the forum using several different usernames to make the community seem alive. Even better if a few people can do this to get it going. It really helps and is needed even if it feels like you are scamming people. Trust me no one will post if there are zero posts unless you have a huge community or something.

Well I hope that helps you get started!

How to get a movie off of a DVD?

I just was asked by a colleague how to do this so I thought it would make a great blog post:

Assuming you have the rights to the DVD to do this, otherwise this is illegal, here is how to do it:

Download and install handbrake:

Handbrake allows you to rip the dvd onto your computer so that you can burn the dvd, play the dvd,, put it on your ipad, etc. without the disk. It is just now simple movie file on your computer.

If you want to then put that dvd back onto a dvd disk to be played on a dvd player you will use a program called burn ( to burn the dvd on a blank dvd.

You can do this with any dvd, even netflix and redbox movies, however, it is illegal unless you have the rights to the disk.

Free Anti-Virus Software: ClamWin

For those people who buy anti-virus software or those that need it, there are free opensource options out there that are very good solutions. My favorite is ClamWin. This is a free opensource anti-virus software that functions just as well as Norton or any other anti virus software out there.


Software Patent Solution

Decent article here explaining the problems with patents in the tech world – Article. Now we all know patents are a problem and hindering innovation in technology, even if people find out the benefits of the online format vs traditional patent style. Maybe there are some solutions that would work for everyone? Just think about this problem when you read the following quote from the article:

“Patents threaten every software developer, and the patent wars we have long feared have broken out. Software developers and software users – which in our society, is most people – need software to be free of patents.

When Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation studied one large program (Linux, which is the kernel of the GNU/Linux operating system) in 2004, he found 283 U.S. patents that appeared to cover computing ideas implemented in the source code of that program. That same year, it was estimated that Linux was .25 percent of the whole GNU/Linux system. Multiplying 300 by 400 we get the order-of-magnitude estimate that the system as a whole was threatened by around 100,000 patents.”

Minnesota Bans MOOCs….then doesn’t

Last week the state of Minnesota banned MOOCs. Why? Apparently they have a law that states that any university trying to operate within their border must meet state standards (as in get approval to operate). This would be OK if Minnesota had some kind of quality program but my guess is that the people in charge are not even educators and that there are companies that stand to lose money if the state pushed to get MOOCs out. Here is an excerpt from the chronicle:

“The state’s Office of Higher Education has informed the popular provider of massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, that Coursera is unwelcome in the state because it never got permission to operate there. It’s unclear how the law could be enforced when the content is freely available on the Web, but Coursera updated its Terms of Service to include the following caution:

Notice for Minnesota Users:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.”


Apparently, facing backlash from the higher ed community, Minnesota plans to ignore the law and let these programs exist within its borders –

Now there are a lot of good issues here. First, these MOOCs are free and offer no credit….plus they are online. How could a state really police them? Should a state really be able to police what is on the internet? On one hand you have states rights and on the other you have a state telling its citizens what they can and cannot see online which brings up a whole host of issues. I would not be surprised if we see more of these types of situations in the very near future so keep your eyes peeled:)