online

20/20 – Day 19: 20 online security necessities

It’s the penultimate day of 20/20 and I’m playing it safe.  Well, helping you stay safe anyway.

In many ways we take the Internet for granted.  It’s easy to forget the need to be secure and safe online.  And it needs more than some anti-virus software.

What do you do to stay safe online?  If you rely on anything that I miss in the list below, let us know in the comments and share the wealth!

Here are my 20 top tools and tips to remain secure while you browse.

  1. Firefox – My web browser of choice.  Do me a favour, if the only browser you’ve used is Internet Explorer, please at least try Firefox.  If you’ve tried Firefox and didn’t like it (I promise not to judge you. 😉  ) then try some of the other browsers out there.  Check Google Chrome or Opera perhaps.  Internet Explorer tends to be targeted more due to the bigger base of users.  I hope you do like Firefox, because several of the security choices below are Firefox plugins that are crucial for the safest browsing experience.
  2. USB stick – Don’t want to leave a personal trail on a public computer?  Want to make sure your setup is as safe as your home one?  Simply install software on a USB memory stick.  A huge range of applications mean you can have a choice of software similar to your home computer, resting in your pocket. Check out Portable Apps for a great suite of programs and Gizmo’s Best Free Portable Applications for most top software.  Armed with portable Firefox and the safety plugins I’m about to mention, and you can secure yourself pretty well in the process.
  3. Encrypted USB – Go even further to securing yourself by protecting your USB stick.  Try USB Safeguard or TrueCrypt for an even safer ride.
  4. Anti-virus – Protects you from viruses. I use Avira and I haven’t been let down by it yet. Fingers crossed it stays that way!
  5. Firewall – Keeps intruders out.  I use COMODO Firewall.
  6. Sandbox – A sandbox lets you run files and programs in an isolated area of the hard drive so any dodgy stuff can’t harm the computer.  If you browse the Web in the sandbox and you get a virus, you can clear the sandbox and come away without a problem.  I use Sandboxie for this.
  7. RequestPolicy – Firefox plugin that stops cross-site requests.  You’d be amazed at how often your information travels between different websites.  When you visit a site, it often connects to many other sites to gather information on screen.  You’ll be amazed at just how many sites some pages want to get information from.  RequestPolicy puts you in control of which sites you allow contact with.
  8. NoScript – This Firefox plugin blocks malicious scripts and stops potentially dangerous content from running unless you allow it.  Again, you’ll be amazed at just how much this tool stops from automatically loading without your knowledge!
  9. Delete Cookies & identifying information – I tend to allow cookies, but have them delete each time I close the browser.  It’s convenient and more private than keeping those cookies lurking about forever.  Configure how you use cookies in Firefox by selecting the Tools menu, clicking ‘Options…’ and checking the ‘Privacy’ tab.
  10. Better privacy with BetterPrivacy – Think you’ve deleted all your cookies? Think again. There are stealth cookies now that live in Flash.  You can’t get rid of these without BetterPrivacy.  I suggest you get it now and banish those tough-to-remove cookies once and for all.
  11. KeyScrambler – Keyloggers can be installed without your knowledge, which track every key you press on the keyboard.  In the (hopefully) unlikely event your keystrokes are being monitored, KeyScrambler encrypts each press into nonsense.
  12. AdMuncher – A lot of people use Adblock Plus for Firefox, but I prefer the standalone software AdMuncher to get rid of adverts.  Not strictly a security tool, but it stops the adverts and stops many connections to ad services.  Can’t be a bad thing, can it?
  13. Different passwords for all services – Don’t use the same password for everything you use.  Yes, you won’t forget.  Yet once one service is compromised, it’s every service compromised.  It’s bad enough being inconvenienced once, so don’t get inconvenienced many times all at once.
  14. Stronger passwords – Lifehacker gives some tips on great passwords.
  15. Use a master password in FirefoxExplained here by dkszone.
  16. LastPass – A password manager.  Helps when you’ve got a lot of passwords on the go and don’t want to remember them all (see Point 13!).  If you’re not keen on this one, try KeePass, another popular manager.
  17. Awareness of what’s private & what’s not – It’s easy to forget which Facebook pages are open for everyone to read and which are private.  Don’t make a mistake and write something stupid (or worse) for the world to see.  Always think about who is able to access the text and content you’re uploading.
  18. Set sensible privacy settings – See above. Facebook has changed its settings a few times recently.  Even if you think you set your profile to completely invisible to anyone except friends, check again now.  Regular checking of privacy settings is required for any website that publishes personal information of yours.
  19. Private Browsing – Some browsers, including the latest Firefox, have a private browsing function so you can surf the Web without the software recording any details and saving any information.  You may need this for some personal surfing, not just looking for weird porn and dodgy downloads.
  20. Use your own caution – Nothing is failsafe.  Even with all the protection above, you may still fall foul of viruses, hacking, and so on.  Exercise caution in everything you do online.  Don’t be casual as you browse and be careful what you choose to download.  If you choose to grab all sorts of pirated software off a messed up torrent and it doesn’t get found by the anti-virus software, all your safe browsing is in vain.
Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)  /  Bottom image: kreg.steppe (cc)

Online learning fund to benefit both online and off?

Universities are being asked today to work together to bid for money to develop new e-learning projects.  David Lammy (Minister for Higher Education) is hoping to help ensure UK universities are at the forefront of online distance learning.  Lammy announced a £20million learning innovation fund to allow better access to online learning.

Among other things, a new taskforce is hoping to, “work to increase the quantity of learning resources freely available for all institutions to use”.

photo by jaylopezFor you, as students, the more quality information available for free online, the better it should be.  That’s even if you live on campus and aren’t studying online as such.

You can already access a huge number of wonderful resources for free, but much of the content originates outside the UK.  For the UK to retain a world-class status, more effort is required to increase the amount of quality material placed online.  Better scope to promote lifelong learning and the constant updating of skills is also required.

Now more than ever, we want to find material that speaks to us. It’s not good enough to find a particular resource dry and difficult to study from, yet have no option but to carry on regardless.  More content available in different formats means we have more chance to effectively digest information in whichever way suits us.  And generally at our own pace too.

Lammy said, “Education must be increasingly personalised to meet the needs of the student as the student requires it and wherever the student requires it.”

David Lammy

David Lammy

At the same time, a new report, supported by JISC, has been released.  Called “The Edgeless University“, the report calls for universities to embrace technology and make the most of the tools available online in order to be at the forefront of Web2.0, social networking and communication.

Online study activity is becoming more important for students, as is easy access to material and content online that is openly available to all.  I know not all students are happy to interact online in the same way they check Facebook and chat with mates, but the game is changing fast.

The ‘Edgeless University’ report mentions Dr Michael Wesch, who has worked wonders at the University of Kansas with his Digital Ethnography programme.  Wesch says, “What I need to do is inspire [students] and give them the tools to harness that information and harness the skills of other people to do the things they want to get done. And that transforms the way you approach the classroom.” (Page 37)

And there really is a transformation.  Not all academic material need come from the confines of a university, especially as online collaboration becomes more common.  However, since the greatest amount of research can take place in HE institutions, it’s sensible to see the uni as the best place to make as much world-class information accessible as possible.  This is where the new learning innovation fund hopes to come into play.

Interactivity is a big deal too, which the ‘Edgeless University’ report supports.  When students see a tutor who is open and available online to talk to students, the demand to engage with that tutor face-to-face actually grows. So students demand more exposure face-to-face as opposed to less.

And face-to-face learning is so important, especially for those who have just left school.  While distance learning should be embraced as a good thing, I still see the student experience of 18 (ish) year olds spending three or so years on campus as a worthwhile and fulfilling encounter that should not be ignored.  Living on (or around) campus is important for the social element, the extra-curricular element, the lifestyle element, and so on.  Do everything online and you could miss out a great chunk of what’s possible.

Nevertheless, the ‘Edgeless University’ report states:

“We are having to reassess the stereotypes associated with ‘being a student’ as something that teenagers do after school and before they start work. It’s a three-year experience – you arrive with a suitcase and leave with a degree. In fact this model of higher education – residential, fulltime and pre-employment – now only reflects the experience of a minority. Two out of five higher education students are currently studying part-time; 59 per cent are mature and almost 15 per cent come from overseas; and there is every indication that the student population will continue to grow and change.” (Page 18)

It’s clear that things are changing, but I hope the ‘stereotype’ remains a big deal, even if student numbers overtake in other modes of study.

Whatever the future holds, the materials that should arise out of the new learning innovation fund would hopefully be of use to each and every student, regardless of their circumstances and the materials they already have access to.