Let Top-Windows-Tutorials.com teach you all about PC privacy and show you how to protect your private data
We hear a lot about PC privacy and protecting ourselves from hackers and spyware, but simply protecting yourself from threats on the internet doesn’t mean your data is safe and sound. Unless you take special steps, data on your computer could potentially be read by anyone who gets access to your machine, either a hacker on the internet or a thief or snoop in your own home! Laptop owners are especially at risk of their computers being stolen, but even the mighty desktop is a target for burglars. Furthermore, if you have ever sold an old computer, did you take the time to wipe your old hard drive? If you didn’t then your personal information could be at risk! Files you delete from your computer can easily be recovered too. When you delete a file, your computer simply marks that part of the hard drive as available for use. The information is still there and can easily be recovered by IT experts.
Identity theft and related fraud is on the increase and personal information can and does get lost because people often do not understand the risks. Even big businesses and government organisations trip up. For example, in November 2007 the UK government agency responsible for child benefit payments made one of the biggest IT / PC privacy mistakes in recent history. It sent 2 CD-R’s full of personal information, unencrypted, via a courier, who managed to lose them. Nobody knows where the data is now, or who might be using it for identity theft or fraud.
How can you avoid making mistakes like this? Fortunately it isn’t too hard. Every user will require a different level of protection depending on what he/she uses their computer for. A family computer that is used for homework and light web surfing by the whole family may not contain any sensitive information and therefore not need any PC privacy software. On the other hand, for example, a laptop computer carried by an accountant which contains financial data for his/her clients requires a greater level of protection. Firstly, let’s see what tools are available to help secure and protect our data. There are two kinds of programs which we will be discussing, file shredders and encryption programs. Let’s take a look at what these programs do now:-
File Shredders Think of a file shredder the same way you think of a paper shredder, only designed to take files from your computer rather than paper (and you can’t use the cuttings for the guinea pig either). As previously stated, deleting a file does not actually remove it from your PC, even if you empty the recycle bin. The job of a file shredder is to permanently remove a file from your PC. There are file shredders that work on single files, or whole disks (very useful if you plan on selling your computer). You can learn more about file shredders including how they can help with PC privacy and which packages are the best by reading our extensive guide to file shredders.
Encryption Programs Think of an Encryption program as like a safe for your information. Encryption programs scramble files making it very difficult or close to impossible for a third party to read them. When you enter the correct password and/or key, the program then unscrambles the data for you to use. There are encryption programs which work with single files, groups of files or even whole disks. Windows Vista Ultimate and Enterprise editions include Bitlocker. This utility can secure a whole hard drive, making it almost impossible to decipher the contents without the correct password, an excellent tool to help with PC privacy!
If you want to learn more about Encryption tools for Windows, check out our guide to encryption tools.
There is another special type of PC privacy tool we should mention. Password managers are encryption tools for your passwords. If you use a lot of different sites on the internet you should definitely consider using a password manager to keep all your log-in information safe and sound.
How do password managers work? Firstly, you choose a long pass-phrase that you can remember but that nobody else is likely to guess. This phrase should be as long as possible, but be sure it is something you will never forget. This pass-phrase unlocks all your other passwords. This means you can choose random strings of numbers and letters (e.g. yU6OozLw) to use as passwords for all the sites you visit on the net. This makes hacking your passwords much harder. Criminals cannot guess your password by writing software that simply tries each word from a list (this is often called a dictionary attack). Additionally, because your password manager is remembering your passwords, you can have a unique one for every site you use. Even if one site were hacked and your password stolen, the attacker would not be able to gain access to any other site that you use. Furthermore, since your master pass-phrase is NEVER transmitted over the internet (only the passwords protected by the master pass-phrase are sent over the internet) it is highly unlikey to fall into the wrong hands, so long as you take reasonable steps to safeguard it and keep your PC free from malware.
Some password managers can even log on to sites automatically, after you enter your pass-phrase and choose the site you want to visit. Our favourite password manager is Roboform. This software does a great job of storing passwords and notes and can automatically fill out forms on the web. Want to see Roboform in action? Click here for a short video.
Unfortunately, Roboform only works with Windows computers and Windows Mobile devices, so if you regularly use Macintosh machines, for example, you might want to check out SplashID instead.
If all this sounds a little complicated, don’t worry. Top-Windows-Tutorials.com shows you everything you need to know to set up and configure PC privacy software, as well as showing you the best privacy software on the market. In fact, some of the best privacy software is completely free. Go to our privacy tutorials page to learn about the best free and commercial encryption and file protection tools available for Microsoft Windows.
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