Security through obscurity: How to cover your tracks online
From Tor to steganography, these six techniques will help obscure the data and traces you leave online
By Peter Wayner
November 05, 2012 — IDG News Service — Thinking about the bits of data you leave behind is a one-way ticket to paranoia. Your browser? Full of cookies. Your cellphone? A beacon broadcasting your location at every moment. Search engines track your every curiosity. Email services archive way too much. Those are just the obvious places we're aware of. Who knows what's going on inside those routers?
The truth is, worrying about the trail of digital footprints and digital dustballs filled with our digital DNA is not just for raving paranoids. Sure, some leaks like the subtle variations in power consumed by our computers are only exploitable by teams of geniuses with big budgets, but many of the simpler ones are already being abused by identity thieves, blackmail artists, spammers, or worse.
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Sad news stories are changing how we work on the Web. Only a fool logs into their bank's website from a coffee shop Wi-Fi hub without using the best possible encryption. Anyone selling a computer on eBay will scrub the hard disk to remove all personal information. There are dozens of sound, preventative practices that we're slowly learning, and many aren't just smart precautions for individuals, but for anyone hoping to run a shipshape business. Sensitive data, corporate trade secrets, confidential business communications -- if you don't worry about these bits escaping, you may lose your job.
Learning how best to cover tracks online is fast becoming a business imperative. It's more than recognizing that intelligent traffic encryption means not having to worry as much about securing routers, or that meaningful client-based encryption can build a translucent database that simplifies database management and security. Good privacy techniques for individuals create more secure environments, as a single weak link can be fatal. Learning how to cover the tracks we leave online is a prudent tool for defending us all.
Each of the following techniques for protecting personal information can help reduce the risk of at least some of the bytes flowing over the Internet. They aren't perfect. Unanticipated cracks, even when all of these techniques are used together, always arise. Still, they're like deadbolt locks, car alarms, and other security measures: tools that provide enough protection to encourage the bad guys to go elsewhere.