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Paranoid about internet security? Here are the most secure OS options

(BUSINESS NEWS) After all of the hacks and security breaches this year, Linux is a great option for OS security.

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Internet security

After the Year of Datasec Fail, in the wake of breach after leak after hack, it’s time to cop to the fact that private data security is Serious Business.

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Private sector titans like Google, Facebook and Yahoo, not to mention the actual flippin’ US government, have demonstrated that, if there’s anything in your life you’d rather Vladimir Putin and/or the entire Internet not know about, you’d better spit on your hands, boot up your robot of choice, and take responsibility for your own infosec.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

The mere notion of handling your own information security (“infosec” to professional nerds like your narrator) conjures images of command lines, spaghetti code and whatever else it is tech types actually, yknow, do. If only there was an easy fix! A simple, widely applicable one-shot that would make your precious 1s and 0s safe forever.

There pretty much is. It’s Linux.

Superficially, using the famous open-source operating system might seem like the opposite of security. After all, the point of open-source is that anybody can look at and futz with the code. How is that compatible with “make everything hidden?”

But that’s the not-so-secret shame of tech

As we’ve ceded more and more of our lives to internet-enabled services, nothing is hidden. Cloud-based services like Google Docs and online-only offerings like Facebook and whatever Yahoo’s doing these days are accessible to everyone, everywhere. That’s the point. That’s their offer. “Accessible to everyone” is incompatible with “accessible only to nice people.”

The Linux fix is twofold.

First, old-school hackers (cue pounding 90s electronica soundtrack) still trading on invading your personal system generally don’t bother with Linux exploits. Windows and the traditionally safer Apple are bigger, more valuable targets. Second, 5 popular distros – that’s “particular flavors of Linux some noble white-hat nerds put together for you” – incorporate fixes for increasingly common Internet breaches of the kind that felled Facebook and Google.

Tails

Tails is a live OS, which means you can put it on a USB stick or disc, run it on any computer, and when you pop it out again the computer goes back to the way it was. Local hacks work by reading your logs, huge quantities of nested information your operating system hangs onto for complicated reasons. Windows does it. Apple does it. Some Linux distros do it. Tails doesn’t. It also roots your internet traffic through the legendary Tor, benchmark of Internet anonymity. Tails’s commitment to zero-footprint computing also has the smaller but just as welcome convenience that, if you do prefer to use it sparingly and stick with your old, less-secure OS, it leaves no souvenirs on your system; your old setup will boot like nothing happened.

IprediaOS

If this were a 19th century novel, this entry would be called “IprediaOS. Or, the Trouble with Tor.” Tor prioritizes security above all else and limits Internet access accordingly. There’s a lot of stuff it won’t go near, because it’s just not secure enough. That limits the mainstream usability of Tor, not to mention services like Tails that rely on it. IprediaOS uses a similar but less strict service, I2P, that affords access to the everyday Web with minimal loss of security. IprediaOS also comes with anonymous chat, email and BitTorrent clients.

Whonix

Whonix is a unique beast. It’s a virtual machine, which is (incredible oversimplification incoming!) a program that thinks it’s a computer and convinces others to treat it likewise. Its big offer is that it can be run as a program on the Windows and Mac OSes, making it a perfect match for anybody who only has a job or three that demand anonymity – cloud-based business records, say, or anonymous blogging – and is otherwise good to go with a by-the-book setup. It’s also a great way to learn the basics of home infosec, since, being based on the venerable Debian distro of Linux, it plays well with Microsoft, Apple and other Linux systems.

Discreete Linux

Not a typo! This cleverly named beastie discreetly keeps your secrets by building a discrete structure, unconnected to anything else, for you to whisper them in. It’s limited in function compared to the other services listed, functioning primarily as data storage and anti-malware/spyware/Trojan solution, but it is very good at those things. It’s in beta at present, and as is a beta’s wont there’s a bug or two to shake out, but it has real promise as a data security tool.

Qubes OS

Qubes is the Whonix solution raised to the level of an operating system. It compartmentalizes your work as separate virtual machines, limiting any compromise in security to one set of services, with no chance of spreading to more vulnerable areas. Qubes even color-codes your machines for you, with colored frames indicating the potential security vulnerability of a given VM. So, if you set up one machine as straight data storage with no access to the outside world, that’s about as secure as data gets and Qubes will tell you so. The machine you do your web browsing in will be coded otherwise. Better still, Qubes provides a secure data-transfer solution that lets you move information safely between machines. Last September Edward Snowden, a man understandably interested in information safety, tweeted “If you’re serious about security, @QubesOS is the best OS available today. It’s what I use, and free. Nobody does VM isolation better.” Can’t say fairer than that.

Don’t be intimidated

Obviously, as is made clear by the monolith of text above, infosec is an enormous topic.

That said, don’t let it scare you.

Get educated on the subject and in a week of digital futzing you’ll be warm in the knowledge that you do security better than the smartest, richest, most powerful people in the world. Happy (white hat) hacking!

#Linux

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

Dittach: Chrome extension keeps your Gmail files ultra organized

(PRODUCTIVITY) Reclaim your time with Dittach and quit digging through Gmail files for that needle in the haystack.

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So, have you ever been sent a picture of something in your Gmail and lost it for a few weeks? What about a copy of a form you need to sign? What about a document for your boss? If you’re sharing a lot of files in your Gmail, you may have a hard time keeping track of it all.

That’s where Dittach hopes to get back a bit of your time.

It’s a free Chrome extension that works with your Gmail to help organize those attachments in a way that’s a lot more efficient than the built-in filter – especially if you have thousands of emails in your Gmail.

The attachment adds a side bar to your inbox and displays thumbnails of the files you’ve received and sent, and that includes documents, audio, and video (most images of the sidebar sort by other, photos, docs, pdfs, movies, and music). There’s a date scroller to help you go through dates, and it even works with your search bar. And of course, you can then forward, download, print, or view the message that is attached.

Dittach captures the key elements of a good productivity app – it’s both incredibly intuitive to use, and it addresses a productivity need by creating time.

The applications of this software are vast if you use Gmail to manage your life, business, life + business, business + side gig + other gig + shopping addiction, or whatever permutation works for your life. If you have any privacy concerns: Dittach doesn’t make any changes to your account, emails, or attachments, and the extension can be removed anytime.

The biggest concern with Dittach actually comes from Google itself – it’s limited to how many attachments it can index every day, so older attachments may not appear initially during that first day – so if you have a lot of older stuff it may not capture them. The app is also in beta, so you may have some bugs with the experience, but it looks very promising. At the time of my review, the feature isn’t working due to a transition, but is expected to be back up soon.

Dittach ultimately is a great Gmail addition if you find yourself handling a great deal of attachments and need a way to quickly find them. Beyond business, I could see the applications of this for graduate students, working professionals, or even digitally connected families. There’s a lot of promise here, if you have the need – so if you use Chrome and Gmail – get Dittached from time wasting (when it’s available, of course).

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FCC Chairman confirms fears, jokes about being a Verizon shill

(TECH NEWS) FCC Chairman Ajit Pai jokes about being a shill for Verizon, feeding into what many suspected when he was appointed.

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Leaked video shows FCC Chairman Ajit Pai joking about being a shill for Verizon, as we all suspected when he was nominated. Last week Pai was a speaker at the Federal Communications Bar Association, an event similar to the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Major telecom companies and the FCC gather at this annual event for dinner, mingling, and enduring awkward political policy jokes. At the event, Pai roasted himself about major headlines from the past year, like his decision to kill net neutrality against the wishes of the majority of the nation. Hilarious.

Pai also brought up the whole thing where he refused to cooperate with an investigation into the validity of comments filed in support of ending net neutrality.

Although cameras weren’t officially present at the event, someone surreptitiously filmed and sent the clip to Gizmodo. The kicker comes around twenty minutes into Pai’s speech when he jokes, “in collusion—I mean, in conclusion, sorry, my bad—many people are still shell-shocked that I’m up here tonight.”

He goes on, “they ask themselves, how on earth did this happen? Well, moments before tonight’s dinner, somebody leaked a fourteen-year-old video that helps answer that question, and in all candor, I can no longer hide from the truth.”

Pai then starts a video, which opens with 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” playing in the background. This is the only thing I’ll give him points for on this amateur drama class project.

The skit is set in 2003 at “Verizon’s DC Office”, when Pai was an attorney for the company. In the video, Kathy Grillo, current Verizon senior VP and deputy general counsel, tells Pai, “As you know, the FCC is captured by the industry, but we think it’s not captured enough, so we have a plan.”

“What plan?” Pai asks. Grillo tells him, “We want to brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chairman. Think ‘Manchurian Candidate.’” To which Pai responds, “That sounds awesome!”

Gizmodo posted the video on Friday after the dinner, and the internet exploded with reactions to Pai’s gag. Reddit in particular went nuts, to the point that one thread in r/technology was locked—as in no one else can comment—for “too much violence.”

In a thread on the r/television subreddit, a moderator reminds users, “please refrain from encouraging or inciting violence or posting personal information […] don’t post anything inviting harassment, don’t harass, and don’t cheer on or upvote obvious vigilantism.”

While some of the threads were full of awful remarks, other posters commented in the spirit of reasonable conversation. The general sentiment of those engaged in non-harassing discussions is that Pai is a symptom, not the cause of FCC’s problems.

However, many argued that the video showed Pai’s willingness to bend (then joke about) FCC regulations indicates he’s not a puppet so much as a willing participant in corruption. Pai’s appointment to FCC Chairman was suspicious from the beginning considering his ties to Verizon.

Although Pai is obviously joking in the leaked video, the general public isn’t find it nearly as funny as those at the dinner.

Check out the clip for some cringe-worthy digs at net neutrality and have fun questioning the integrity of the FCC.

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Tech News

FCC Grinches plan to steal poor peoples’ Internet access

(TECH NEWS) Merry Christmas! The FCC is trying to take away poor people’s Internet access, pointing the finger one way to distract you from the other.

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In case anybody with enough bandwidth to read this wasn’t sufficiently terrified by the FCC’s ongoing campaign to break the internet by dismantling net neutrality, the nation’s communication authority has kindly provided another reason for any digital-enabled American to expatriate and/or secede.

The FCC’s most recent reform proposal proposes to reform the absolute Hell out of Lifeline, the $2.25 billion program to provide low-income Americans with broadband Internet access. Also, phones. The Lifeline Program has been doing its job since 1985, when noted socialist firebrand Ronald Reagan instituted it to subsidize phone service in underprivileged communities. It was expanded to include broadband Internet access in 2016, and right now 12 million households benefit from Lifeline-subsidized phone and Internet access.

That’s apparently a problem.

The FCC’s stated concern is that the General Accounting Office recently found $1.2 million of the $2.25 billion Lifeline budget was being used fraudulently. Fraud is bad! But in case you don’t have your TI-85 handy, that’s less than a tenth of 1 percent. That is not very much fraud. Not enough to nix an entire program, at least.

The greater concern, as usual, appears to be about profit. Under the current Lifeline guidelines, many subsidized companies are small ISPs and resellers providing access to third-party networks. Often, these services are the only Internet access available in rural areas, tribal lands, and other underserved communities.

That doesn’t work for Commissioner Pai.

Earlier this year, Pai used “delegated authority,” the FCC’s version of executive orders, to bypass oversight and personally rescind subsidy access from 9 ISPs providing services to rural areas and tribal lands.

These reforms continue that trend. They ban subsidies for no-cost Internet service, which is the business model of 70% of current Lifeline subsidy recipients. It is notably not the business model of large ISPs that rhyme with Buhrizon. I’m sure that’s a coincidence.

They also impose an absolute budget cap, meaning that millions of poor households could lose their Internet access, and the increased opportunities for education and employment that come with it, if someone in a comfy office a thousand miles away effs up the accounting.

In short, it sucks.

The proposed reforms to the Lifeline Project are another example of the FCC, deliberately or through negligence, rigging the market in favor of major conglomerates at the expense of consumers, small businesses and the general public.

Lifeline isn’t perfect, but it’s doing its job. Whether the same can be said for Ajit Pai’s FCC is, at best, an open question.

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