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Privacy Resolutions for 2019

Seven Privacy Protections to Put Into Place Now

By Anne Haag and Catherine Sanders Reach

If you resolved to shore up your privacy protections this year but have yet to take action, could it be because you’re not sure how to do it? To guide you, here are seven protections to consider implementing today.

1. Limit Third-Party Tracking Online With Privacy Badger

When you look at the average website, you’re looking at a page that includes content from multiple sources. For example, the average news site contains content from advertisers, a comment section host, and their own content. These different sources embed images, scripts and advertising in the pages that you visit, and can use cookies and other methods to track your movement online. If you’ve ever felt creeped out by how tailored an advertisement is for you, you’ve probably unknowingly run into this issue.

Privacy Badger is an internet browser extension (compatible with Chrome, Opera, Firefox and Firefox on Android) that stops advertisers and third-party trackers from covertly tracking where you go on the web. All you have to do is install it in the browser you use, and it automatically starts to block tracking. It’s not a complete fix — sites that you actively visit (like Facebook) constitute first-party trackers and will still be an issue. It makes a big difference though!

2. Block Annoying Ads with uBlock

Online ads aren’t just annoying, they can also be dangerous. Ads can include trackers that track your activity as you move across the web or even malware. uBlock (compatible with Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Mac OS) is a free ad blocker that protects you against these unwanted or malicious ads, making your web browsing experience quicker and more enjoyable. It’s another browser extension, so you just have to install it and let it run. If you encounter a website that requires you to turn off uBlock before accessing the site (some news sites require this, as they rely heavily on ad income), all you have to do is click the extension icon and click the power button. To turn it back on when you’re done, just repeat the process.

3. Force a Secure Connection with HTTPS Everywhere

If you connect to a website whose URL begins with http:// instead of https://, your connection to that website (and thus, your data) is not encrypted. HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension (compatible with Chrome, Opera, Firefox and Firefox for Android) that forces a secure connection wherever possible. Once you install it, it forces the secure, encrypted connection whenever it can without you having to take further steps.

4. Make Sure You’re Ready and Able to Remotely Wipe Lost or Stolen Devices

There are two components to consider here. First, you need to know how to remotely wipe your device before it’s lost or stolen. If you don’t remember your account log-in information, now is the time to get that sorted out. Walk through the steps (without actually wiping your device) so that you’re prepared to do it quickly and confidently if the time comes. For more detailed instructions regarding this process on both Apple and Android devices, check out this wonderfully detailed Wired article.

The second aspect to consider is whether your phone is properly backed up. The prospect of remotely wiping your device isn’t daunting if you know that your data is backed up to the cloud. If your phone isn’t currently backed up, that’s something you need to tackle. That same Wired article can help you out with more detailed instructions for this as well.

5. Stop Using Public Wi-Fi!

Public Wi-Fi is a security disaster waiting to happen. When you log on to a public Wi-Fi network, your activity is visible to anyone else on the network motivated enough to take a few steps to access that information. If you access a website that doesn’t have a secure connection (indicated by http:/ in the URL) via that public network, any usernames or passwords you use on that website will also be visible to anyone else on the network.

There are a few workarounds here that will allow you to keep working from the comfort of your local library or Starbucks, but the most secure option by far is to connect to the internet using a VPN (virtual private network). There’s a huge number of VPN services out there, but a great free option is provided by Opera, a free internet browser. Opera isn’t in and of itself a VPN, but you have the option to turn on a VPN within the settings when needed.

6. Know What Permissions You’ve Given Your Apps

Apps on your smartphone and your laptop may be sharing more than you want to about your conversations, location, contacts, camera, files and almost anything else. How? Well, often when you install apps, a screen notifies you that the app needs permission to access certain functions/files on your device to work. In many cases that is true — but they may not tell you that additionally those apps are sharing information with third parties. You should do at least an annual check of the apps you are using and the permissions you have given them. You may decide to uninstall them or may be able to disable certain permissions unless you need them.

This Wired article has a great step-by-step guide for iPhone, Android, Windows and MacOS to check permissions and disable them. Lifehacker also has a step-by-step guide on shutting down location tracking (and the implications).

7. Another Score to Check

You already know to check your credit history due to the continuous data breaches. Well, to add to your list, if your firm uses Office 365 Enterprise, Microsoft 365 Business or Office 365 Business Premium, you should also check your Secure Score. This score figures out which Office 365 services your firm is using and then looks at settings and activities and compares them with a baseline established by Microsoft. Your score is based on how aligned you are with security best practices. You will also get recommendations on how to improve your firm’s score, and can track your improvement over time with the Score Analyzer. Office 365 is a complex and comprehensive product, and Secure Score can help your firm protect against threats to its environment. Check now at https://securescore.office.com.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Anne Haag and Catherine Sanders Reach

 

Anne Haag is a Practice Management Advisor at the Chicago Bar Association. Anne worked as a patent paralegal at a Chicago IP firm before arriving at the CBA in 2017 as the Law Practice Management and Technology department’s trainer/coordinator. She is also a certified crisis counselor and volunteers as a patient advocate in the ER.

Catherine Sanders Reach is Director for the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association. Formerly she was Director, Law Practice Management and Technology for the Chicago Bar Association and Director at the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center. Previously, she worked in library and information science environments. Catherine is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and Co-Vice Chair of the 2019 ABA TECHSHOW Board. Follow her @catherinereach.

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