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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

Help solve COVID-19 with your home computer

(TECH NEWS) Your home computer can do more than just show you funny cat pictures or get you in trouble with family members, it can help solve COVID-19.

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Folding@Home

Did you know that while you are sitting at home doing your social distancing thing, be that working from home, video games, movies and TV, or making funny videos out of boredom, you can actually be actively helping solve the COVID-19 outbreak?

If you have a computer of almost any quality, or even a specific series of Android phones, you can become part of a huge network of computers that process data from scientists and medical researchers. If the internet is ever going to serve a good purpose, this is it!

Basically you just need to download a small app called Folding@Home, choose the COVID-19 projects and packets of data will be sent to your device and it will process that data in the background of whatever else you use the computer or phone for. It’s free, easy, and practically invisible to your everyday life.

“So what will my computer be processing in the first place?” you may ask, well I’m glad I made you ask. Think of viruses as a robotic manufacturing piece of equipment, you can see what comes up to it, and what leaves it, but what does it actually affect and how? You can’t see its inner mechanical workings or the program running it, this is the information from Folding@Home your computer will help scientists to understand so that they can craft a vaccine.

Now a lot of new technology is helping battle this pandemic, like 3D printed masks and valves, disinfecting robots, along with just keeping the people happy like guaranteeing continued services, and I am not discrediting any of that, they are very important to stop the spread. This on the other hand goes for the jugular as it were, to stop the virus on its own home turf, and costs you almost nothing. (Technically it costs you more power, but hey with a lot of power companies not expecting payment, and not charging late fees and whatnot, maybe they take the brunt of this payment)

If you want to be able to go back into the world you by now miss, this is an easy way to contribute to helping everyone. You can say “I helped solve the COVID-19 crisis!” If doing this makes you feel good or at least interests you, there are dozens of other projects similar to Folding@Home through Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing(BOINC) that you can contribute to such as tracking asteroids, simulating star formation, breaking down data about other viruses and medical needs, even the search for alien radio signals.

In a time when we all need help, take a step forward and BE the help.

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Tech News

Instagram helps pass social isolation with co-watching

(TECH NEWS) As social distancing become commonplace, Instagram responds with co-watching. The Newest way to look at and watch content with friends.

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Instagram co-watching

Deep into the second week of quarantine, third or fourth week for some of us, the isolation is starting to become quite real. Thanks to modern technology we can reach out to our friends and family without leaving the house, but it pales in comparison to the social lives many of us once enjoyed together. While you can certainly FaceTime or video call your friends, it’s still difficult to watch things together, mimicking the in-person experience. Many people have begun searching for apps that allow you to watch televisions shows and trending news together, so you can all see the same thing, at roughly the same time (thanks, lagging) and comment accordingly.

In a timely release, Instagram just launched a new feature called “Co-Watching.” This takes Instagram from a solo experience to a shared experience for up to six people. Co-Watching gives users the ability to video chat and browse through Instagram’s content together, thus making it more of a social gathering. The only downside to this feature, in my opinion, is that you cannot Co-Watch IGTV. Oftentimes, IG posts that are over the time limit are shifted to IGTV and you won’t be able to watch the full post with Co-Watching, but all other feeds and content on Instagram will be able through the new Co-Watching feature (except private posts, of course).

Ready to Co-Watch? Getting started is pretty easy, if you’re somewhat familiar with Instagram. To start, initiate a video call with whomever you want, up to six, in your Co-Watching party, by tapping on the arrow icon in the upper-right corner and select the video camera icon. You’ll see the video chat interface pop up and from there you’ll want to look to the lower right-hand corner for a “media” button, which looks like a mountain photo icon. Tap on that icon and you’ll see all the posts you’ve liked. Select a post or video from your favorites, or from Instagram’s recommended feed and whatever you tap will be shared to all your partygoers. If you’re watching a video, it will continue to loop until you or one of your friends select something new.

There are several other group chat/watching options currently available if Instagram isn’t your jam. Netflix can be used with the Party app. Netflix Party is available on Chrome browsers (on desktops or laptops) and allows you to synch your favorite videos with group chat. There is also the Squad app. It allows you to screen share anything on your phone with your friends. This works with texts, IG, Snapchat, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, TikTok, and more. Start a group video chat with your selected friends, then broadcast your screen and start chatting. Squad is available in the App Store and Google Play.

While Instagram’s new feature is fun, the inability to share while watching IGTV makes it fall a bit flat for me. Have you tried, or will you try Instagram’s Co-Watching feature?

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Tech News

Broadband internet can save rural lives, especially now

(TECH NEWS) Will this bill finally put broadband internet access into the communities that need it most? Rural communities are quickly falling behind.

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broadband internet

Lack of information kills.

As in straight up will put you in the ground, kills.

Example: Did you know they sell apricot kernels by the bag as a superfood? Did you know that their seeds, as well as those of most stone fruits like nectarines, plums, and peaches contain a chemical called amygdalin? Did you know that amygdalin converts to cyanide in the human body, and will take your Whole Foods shopping behind out like a bag full of used N95 masks on trash day?

If you didn’t know, you know now, and if you knew before, either you’re a botanist, scientist, or some other positive -ist, OR you found out like I did. On the internet.

Y’all, my height, weight, and the calendar say the same thing: it’s not 1995 anymore.

There’s no ‘pounding the pavement’ to get a job, it’s on the internet. There’s no ‘Just call and find out’, you get put on hold and a robo voice tells you to get on the internet. PS, that last weird thing you saw your doctor about? They went to school, and they can authorize the tests, but they Googled that mess too, I guarantee you.

The web is an everyday utility in every country with steady lights and running water for more than 5% of the populace. So why are my folks in the wide open spaces being left out on this? Simply put, it’s a matter of companies not bothering to put the broadband infrastructure in place coupled with increasing charges in paying for the services in the first place. A new bill is looking to change that, and I am THUH-RILLED.

RJ Karney Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau spearheaded putting Bill S.1822, AKA Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, AKA the DATA Act (nice one), in front of President Trump, and the payoff will payoff thusly if signed into law:

Rural communities will have better access to remote healthcare–physical AND mental, highly important to anyone for whom a doctor’s visit is a literal day trip.

Broadband usage will be tracked more accurately, allowing companies to get a glimpse into where reinforcements are needed most.

Those trackings will be used to decide where government funds will be allocated in order to facilitate internet implementation (say that 10 times fast).

20 Million Americans with no access to broadband, and the standard of life that comes with it will be granted the access they need.

Lovely, right?

And for everyone who likes the taste of leather out there, this isn’t a matter of the free market deciding not to provide a service because it isn’t profitable. No, dear reader, these companies have actively TURNED DOWN government funding to roll out faster internet in less populated areas, citing ‘We don’t wanna’ (my paraphrase) and ‘We know better than they do, and they don’t NEED this’ (also my paraphrase).

Even a city gal like me knows manure when she sees it.

I had a similar situation going on here in Austin. Once I moved out of the crappy apartments that just HAPPENED to be on the tail edge of a rich zip code, and into the crappy apartments by the GOOD taco places, my internet didn’t work right. Because the area had too many “poors” for -company name redacted, although it rhymes with Air BnB- to have put up the structures for working internet there. Despite the fact that my bill was not any lower.

It’s not okay.

Look obviously country folk aren’t stupid. I defy you to be as sharp as someone who has to get up at 5AM and drain a horse’s abscess without getting a hoof-shaped dent between the eyebrows. But especially now in our Covid-19 inundated world, we need info that you cannot just ‘know’. This is unprecedented stuff! For all I know, the virus feeds on the compounds in garlic, and I’m seconds away from a sweet n’ savory death due to all my ‘fight it off’ infused honey!

The issue is that no amount of good ol’ fashioned common sense is going to keep you from knowing not to feed your baby with contaminated Gerber’s that just got recalled because some sick douche-iot purposefully sneezed in the mashed peas. When I say ‘We need the information’, that WE means ALL of us.

Let’s hope for the best for this bill, and get everyone wired, hired, and fired up.

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