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Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked

Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked

News briefs bombard television sets and computer screens around the globe, with cases of government whistleblowers, spying, cell phone hacking, private photographs leaked via iCloud, and more. Reports of the United States’ government usage of the PRISM program allegedly tracking over 1 million persons in the United States alone, has been particularly startling. Naturally, growing interest and attention has been placed on privacy and security, not only in banks and boardrooms but bedrooms and coffee shops around the world. Many want to avoid being tracked online, followed, spied on and their information automatically gathered, even if just to “check” on their Google searches, Skype calls, Facebook posts or email messages.

There are many ways to protect yourself from the prowling eyes of Big Brother and others who make a living following your every cyber move, but do keep in mind that nothing is 100% fool-proof. You have to assume that scammers, spammers, and others spend their days and nights finding ways to make your online experience vulnerable and under constant threat. That doesn’t mean you should succumb or act recklessly online, however.

Just to be extra cautious, before you even start reading this article, put a small strip of black electrical tape over your built-in computer camera. Hackers can remotely activate your webcam. Usually you’ll be able to tell it’s been turned on due to the red light, but that’s not always the case. There are techniques hackers and scammers use to avoid detection; don’t fall prey to their prying eyes.

These are 12 ways to keep your information out of the crosshairs.

1. Clean your Internet browsing history after every use.

You are most commonly tracked online by your IP address and emails. Every site you visit online tracks your time spent there and leaves what are called ‘cookies’ on your computer. ‘Cookies,’ also known as ‘HTTP cookie,’ ‘web cookie,’ or ‘browser cookies’ are best thought of like crumbs. They remain, like little crumbs after you’ve eaten a cookie, in your machine and keep track of everything you’ve done. This is what allows you to log-in to previously viewed websites without being prompted to manually enter passwords and usernames every time. It keeps you logged in, or your data will already be pre-filled out before you log on. This is also one way that companies can see what items you are viewing when shopping or what articles you are reading on a news site or what you are researching on any given day. This helps companies and organizations determine how to engage with you and which product descriptions and pop-up ads will attract you to buy or click.

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To get around this, you have to actively clean out your search history, and set your viewing patterns to private. Anything from Google Chrome, Firefox, all versions of Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera, and AOL, among others, can be cleaned out. Click each service above for specific instructions on how to delete your browsing history.

You can also download Piriform for deleting some bits of your online footprint. Ensuring you erase this data is one way to avoid being tracked online. You’ll need to keep better track of passwords, when you do this. If you are having a hard time managing your passwords, KeePassX is a password vault stored locally on your computer and encrypted.

2. Create specific passwords for each account.

Don’t rely on the Internet to keep you safe. And don’t assume that no one will attempt to hack into your accounts because you’re not that interesting or you don’t have anything worth stealing. The lazier you are online the more chance for harm against you. Avoid passwords like ‘abcdef’ or ‘12345,’ and certainly never ‘password.’ Don’t share your passwords. Stay organized while creating online accounts. Keep them stored on a USB key document or in a notebook only you have access to. Take time to make passwords that are hard to guess and devoid of information that many people might know. If you are having trouble developing a good password, try LastPass.

3. Avoid JavaScript search engines.

StartPage, Google Chrome, Firefox, Duck Duck Go, and Cyber Ghost are alternative options to traditional search engines that track your behavior and choices online. Basic search engines use JavaScript. JavaScript is like the glue that keeps the Internet together. But it’s also what’s used in ‘cookies.’ If you are trying to avoid being tracked online, JavaScript, in a sense, is your enemy. You should take precautions to protect yourself from its power.

4. Use Tor and a Linux Live Image, like Tails.

Tor is one of the best methods of protection and security. Tor is free to download and install. By using Tor, you scramble your IP address, disguising your location and personal data. Your IP address, or Internet Protocol, is a numeric access code needed to use the internet. Your computer is automatically assigned an IP address via your internet provider, like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, among many others, and remains your online identifier. Tor is a trusted source for the likes of businesses, activists, journalists, military, law enforcement agencies, and even Edward Snowden.

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BBC is reporting, as of Monday, November 3, 2014, that Facebook is now allowing users to connect directly to the social network via Tor. This will be particularly beneficial for those in nations like North Korea, China, and Cuba, where Internet usage is heavily comprised.

A Linux Live Image, like Tails, is another useful method to avoid being tracked online. You can download the service, and burn it to a CD or USB key. It won’t allow any storing of your Internet activity, so after you shut down your computer, all your searches and other work will not be stored. If you opt for this, make sure you save your files, in pdf form, directly to the computer or on a USB key.

5. Don’t reply to suspicious emails and never accept friendship requests from people you don’t personally know.

This is one easy way Internet users slip up and invite spying and stalking, without knowing it. In recent news, police were using fake Facebook accounts to spy on users. Of course, the film Catfish is another cautionary tale of revealing too much online to people you don’t know. Take time to look through all your online accounts, like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Remove and block contacts that send you spam messages; don’t positively engage in your network or those with whom you have no connections or don’t know in real life. It’s not impolite to decline invitations that won’t work for you, especially if you don’t even know the person extending the invitation or what their intention is.

If you are an Apple user, you can forward suspicious emails purporting to be from the company, to [email protected]. Microsoft users can visit their Security and Privacy page for more details on reporting questionable activity. Don’t shy away from the Facebook Report button, either.

6. Encrypt your email messages.

You can encrypt e-mails and files using GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG or GPG). Your files will be bullet-proof and unreadable unless one has your pass phrase and the answer to your ‘‘secret question’’. When you install GPG, you are asked to provide a pass phrase and generate private and public keys. Keep the private key and pass phrase as safe as a newborn baby. These will allow you to decrypt your messages and files. When someone wants to send you a message or file they will use your public key to encrypt it. Feel free to share your public key with all persons you want to communicate with under the radar. This is how Edward Snowden leaked information to guerrilla film maker, Laura Poitras and The Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald.

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7. Use a burner laptop and cell phone.

A ‘burner’ laptop or cellphone is a normal device. You can purchase a ‘burner’ like you normally would purchase a computer or cell phone. Choose whichever is in your price range, but the cheaper the better. For a ‘burner’ cell phone, choose a pre-paid version and pay only in cash. The ‘burner laptop’ is the only laptop you will ever use to connect to the internet. That includes streaming YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, or social networking sites. All internet access should go through this laptop, if you are intent on avoiding being tracked online. You can keep a computer for personal documents, diary entries, numbers, spread sheets or other personal files. Never save anything to the burner laptop. Once a month re-install the operating system you’ve chosen, and completely re-format the drive.

8. Use Bitcoins.

The usage of Bitcoin is still a questionable monetary system, and not in general use with the public but still gaining considerable momentum in the financial arena. Bitcoin and Pay Pal have been joining forces. Some claim, using Bitcoins allow you to avoid paying taxes, and can be purchased anonymously, so you may avoid being tracked online or by other electronic means. It’s also a threat to central governments and disrupting the traditional banking system.

9. Don’t post overly personal details anywhere online.

Avoid birth dates, middle names, maiden names, social security numbers, telephone numbers, bank numbers or personal information on family members. Don’t post photographs that you would feel uncomfortable for others to see or potentially copy and re-use. This can be difficult, but setting your accounts to private and screening all friend requests is one to protect yourself and avoid being tracked online.

10. Read all the fine print.

When setting up online accounts, you are offered a User Agreement policy to read. Don’t ignore them. Copy and paste for later in-depth reading, wait to set up an account until you have the time to read through all the rules associated with that online forum or account. Make yourself aware of the implications involved. Avoid agreeing to contracts that you feel uncomfortable with or are unsure about. Some online accounts, apps or forums take liberty to use your personal details and even your networks personal details.

11. Pay attention to your privacy settings and updates to privacy options.

Look through your current online privacy settings, and set them according to your comfort level. Remember that when a company alters their privacy settings and security contracts, your previous settings are often not retained. Stay up to date and edit your settings. You may even wish to set a reminder on your phone for a monthly password change and check-up. The documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, takes a critical look at the ever-changing User Agreement policies.

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12. For the really paranoid: abandon all tech; use only paper, pen, typewriters and in-person chats and photo-sharing, the old-fashioned way.

Don’t assume spying or malicious hacking is only an American problem. After dozens of documents were released following government whistleblowers and data on the United States monitoring German intelligence, the German government took to typewriters, instead of electronic messaging services. Brazil, the United Kingdom and a number of other nations have also revealed aggressive means of data mining of their citizens.

Caveats and Pro-Tips to all information previously mentioned:

A. The trouble with all these methods is that criminals, and what the tech community calls, ‘black hat hackers,’ can also make use of these strategies and are often many steps ahead of you. This is what makes it hard to police the internet or prevent malicious use. The Dark Net, the nefarious underbelly of the internet, unseen by the general public, can be found using Tor. It is also home to The Silk Road, which allows criminals to sell anything from children to cocaine to hired killers.

B. Using public computer terminals, like those found at your local library or university, to avoid being tracked online, is not the answer. Your internet usage is still being tracked and is attached to your library account, which may include your Social Security Number, State Driver’s License or Identification Number. Government agencies, police and other authorities can still request your public internet behaviour, should you ever be accused of or charged with a crime. The positive side to this is that a criminal can be caught, like the recent murder case of Maribel Ramos in Orange County, California. Her murderer was found using the local library computer to pin-point a burial site using Google Maps.

Stay safe!

Featured photo credit: kennymatic via flickr.com

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Published on November 9, 2018

How to Improve Your Computer Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

How to Improve Your Computer Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

Technology has taken the business world by storm. People and businesses are progressively reliant on technology world these days. As a result, the people with impressive knowledge and experience with a computer are in demand.

Considering this growing market trend, if you too wish to bag a profitable job, this article is apt for you. Here, we will dig deeper into the business and technology world to look into what are the best computer skills one should invest in and what resources to get help from.

So, are you ready? Here we begin.

6 Most-In Demand Computer Skills This Year (and Beyond)

When talking about computer skills, following are the 6 computer skills that can fill your mailbox with endless job opportunities (besides, having an English and Hindi typing speed of 40+ WPM):-

1. Spreadsheets and Databases

Considering the treasure trove of data companies are handling these days, Spreadsheet and Database management skill tops the list. It is considered the most wanted job skill in the market, with a salary of around $53,129/yr for an entry-level position. However, the spreadsheet skill does not confine to auditing data from cells.

To get hired based on this computer skill, you need to become a Spreadsheet ninja. From storing data to organizing them, applying complex mathematics formulas, and creating complex macros, you need to be an expert at all.

In other words, you need to have an expertise at working with:

  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Access
  • Statistics
  • Data Analytics
  • Adobe Campaign
  • Quickbooks
  • XML Database management system
  • Filemaker Pro
  • MATLAB
  • Hive
  • FORTRAN
  • RDBMS (Relational Database Management System)
  • SAS

2. Social Media, Email, and Blogging

Though people are socially active, not everyone knows how to use the social media tools on the professional front. In such a scenario, having an expertise at writing engaging yet professional emails, writing blogs, and managing social media activities is a ticket to entry in reputed organizations.

Some of the skills related to social media, email and blogging that will have a leg up in the hiring process are:

  • Content Management System (CMS)
  • Google Analytics
  • Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
  • Email Marketing
  • Web Page Design
  • WordPress
  • Digital Media
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Campaign Management Software

3. Graphic Design and Word Processing

A solid grasp of skills to present the gained information in the much readable form is another market need. When considering this computer skill category, you need to enhance your skills at:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • AutoCAD
  • CorelDRAW
  • Microsoft Visual Studio
  • Maya
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Publisher
  • Operating Digital Cameras

4. Software and Hardware Design and Development

The Software and Hardware development, in simpler language, means designing, implementing, and testing the computer software/hardware applications. It is the most profitable computer skill, with a different job opening, including Software Architect, Software Analyst, Software programmer, Hardware configuration, etc.

To be capable of developing and testing the software and hardware, you need to peruse your users’ needs and build an application that hits their pain points. You need to work with different web and mobile app coding languages for gaining the attention of your audience, some of which are:

  • HTML
  • C/C++
  • Java
  • Python
  • XML
  • UI/UX
  • LINUX
  • CISC and RISC architecture
  • Embedded Processor Hardware Design
  • Memory Management
  • PCB Layout
  • SQL

5. IT Troubleshooting

Working on computers is one thing and having a knack of looking into the associated issues and resolving them in real-time is another. There are various employees and graduates who work with computer systems in their daily lives, but get confused when it comes to dealing with frozen programs and performing routine maintenance.

So, if you are familiar with the basic anatomy of computers and machines and know the tricks to perform such tasks to streamline the working process, enter the IT support arena. The prime IT troubleshooting skills one needs to work upon are:

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  • Backup management
  • Diagnostics
  • End User support
  • Client-Server management
  • Installation and configuration
  • Issue tracking system (ITS)
  • System administration
  • Tech support

6. Enterprise Systems

Many Enterprises have their own enterprise solutions like PeopleSoft for managing their data and operations.

Becoming a master at using the enterprise solutions mentioned in their ‘Requirements’ area can also lessen the barrier to get a job.

The Roadmap to Excel Your Computer Skills

Now that you know the 6 most popular computer skills in the market, the first decision, you need to take is which computer skill you want to work upon. All the skills are equally considerable for making a career ahead. So, choose one as per your interest.

Once done, look forward to the following resources for boosting your computer skills and getting a reputed, handsome job.

Depending on the computer skill you opt, here are the online courses you can turn to for elevating your career opportunities:

1. Become a Spreadsheet and Database Ninja

a. Microsoft Excel Training Online Course – Basic & Advanced

Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or expert at working with spreadsheets, this online course has something new for everyone to become excel efficient users.

Divided into 48 interesting lessons, the course empowers you to learn the technique of using mathematical, statistical, logical and text functions, sorting and filtering the data, creating Pivot Tables, building macros, finding a value with VLOOKUp, and much more.

b. Excel- Online Courses, Classes, Training, Tutorials on Lynda

This is another impressive course to unlock the power of Excel. Designed for people from all walks of life and familiarity with Excel tools. This course helps you gain in-depth knowledge from the experts about this data-analyzing tool and make the magic in spreadsheet creation and management process.

c. SQL & Database Design A-Z™: Learn MS SQL Server + PostgreSQL

Build a successful career in the data analytics world with this online course.

Revolving around the two top databases, MS SQL and PostgreSQL, this course will give you a comprehensive knowledge of the working of the databases and understanding of all the related elements, including how to create, update, organize, and safeguard the data.

2. Rule the Social Media World

a. Free Social Media Course by HubSpot

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Introduced by the top experienced inbound professors from Hubspot, here you will get a comprehensive knowledge of Social media marketing.

From understanding how to build relationships on different social media platforms to creating a perfect strategy to engage them, leveraging the benefits of social advertising, and analyzing your social media ROI, this course will bring out the best out of you.

b. Write Professional Emails in English by Coursera

This online course will be the right weapon to look into the differences and similarities between different email styles, improve your English writing skills, write effective subject lines, maintain the formality tone in emails, and more to make a powerful impact on the receivers with your email.

c. Ninja Writing: The Four Levels of Writing Mastery

Founded by Udemy, this online course will excel your skills to build a masterpiece everytime you write.

Here, you will get the guidance from the editors of the top newspapers and websites, and understand what kind of words and tone to use for leaving a spellbinding impact on the readers.

3. Launch Your Own Software or Hardware Equipment

a. Hardware and Software Courses by Coursera

From Big Data to IoT, Sensor Circuit Design, Embedded Software and Hardware Architecture, and Motor Control Circuit, this course will give you a glimpse of all the hardware devices, equipment, and programming languages to build wonders.

b. Free Software and Web Development Certifications Online by Alison

Become the software developer market demands with Alison’s Java, C#, Python, R, PHP, or MySQL database course. From backend to frontend development and software testing.

The course helps you to learn how to design, develop and test software and working in a team while contributing to the team success.

c. Free Online Software Development and MOOCs Course by Class Central

The Class Central online course will make you a master of software development. Here, you will learn the basic concepts of development like Agile, Design Patterns, and Version Control with Git, along with gaining experience of working with the top programming languages.

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4. Live and Breathe Creativity

a. Udemy: Introduction to Graphic Design

It is a top-rated program for the new learners and designers to explore the Graphic Design world.

From the history of communication to the design principles, the course will help the students to learn everything specifically and implement in the real world.

b. Canva Design School

From a beginner to advanced level, this course will provide you with an elaborated and comprehensive knowledge of graphic design. In the form of 4 modules, this course will help the interested graphic designers to try out their skills at Graphics, ranging from fonts to colors, backgrounds, images, shapes, and layouts.

c. Microsoft Word – Basic & Advanced

62 personalized lessons, premium video tutorials, and unlimited tests and quizzes – this certified course has everything that will make your entry to the business world easier.

d. Microsoft Office: Word, Excel and Access Productivity Bundle

The course will make you productive in Word, Excel, and Access through video lectures, articles, and various other supplemental resources.

Besides, it will offer you exclusive tips and tricks to enhance your skills at using Microsoft office.

5. Raise Your Reflexes to IT Troubleshooting

a. IT Troubleshooting Skill Training by Udemy

IT Troubleshooting Skill Training will upgrade your logical concepts over technical components to find and repair faults.

It will provide you with a methodological approach to learn the basics of troubleshooting, practice them via exercises and drills, and enhance your IT troubleshooting intelligence.

b. IT Help Desk Online Course on Lynda

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The Lynda’s IT troubleshooting online course will train you how to respond to the issues related to Windows 10, Office 365, JIRA software, and more, from a local as well as a remote location.

Mobile Apps and Websites to Enhance Computer Skills

The aforementioned online courses will undoubtedly train you for a successful career ahead. But, in case you want a long-term support, turn towards the following websites and mobile apps:

  • Duolingo – Duolingo app will improve your spoken and written communication skills in different languages. With the magic of gamification added to the study, the app will make learning a fun and addictive task.
  • Hemingway – Hemingway app defines the length, complexity, and common errors associated with the sentences. In this way, it helps you to write effectively and go ahead in the career.
  • Udemy – The Udemy, with its 2000+ courses, is a great platform to master new skills, advance your career and explore the newer technologies and programming languages. Enrol a course as per your budget and make a brighter future.
  • eDX – eDX is yet another commendable platform you can look forward to. The platform offers you the best of the tutorials prepared by the business professionals and technology experts, ensuring a great boost in your computer skills.
  • Excel Easy – Excel Easy, as the name depicts, will make working with Excel easier for you via their detailed tutorials and 300+ real-life examples.
  • GCF LearnFree.org – It is a one-stop platform for accelerating your future in the computer world. From graphic design to Microsoft Office, resume writing, enhancing adaptability, and much more, the top experts will guide you with everything on this platform.
  • QuarkXPress – The QuarkXPress will aid you to add soul to your design with its unparalleled collection of font style, size, and typography. The best part is that it is avails all the options in different languages, including English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian to name a few.

Bonus: Tips to Accelerate Your Approach For a Better Career Ahead

Though these resources will make you stand out from the crowd and get hired at once, you need to focus on various other things, such as:

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

It is common to forget what we learn. To ensure that you do not miss any opportunity just because you forgot, keep practising.

Make it your routine. Polish your computer skills and you will surely end up getting an offer letter from a recognized firm.

2. Work on Your Efficiency

Remembering what you learned is not enough; practice to enhance those skills to do better.

For example, if you take around 50 minutes to create a design, target for 40 minutes.

3. Look for Shortcuts

Smart work rules over hard work more often. So, look forward to learning shortcuts to do any task. This will increase your chances to crack an interview and get selected.

4. Apply for an Internship

Last but not the least, apply for an internship to see what’s trending in the market and how much you are ready for it. While doing an internship, pay attention to your weak points and work on them. This will ensure a success when you apply for your dream job.

By the late, it’s never too late to be an intern or grab whatever opportunity to learn something new! Here’s how:

How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

The Bottom Line

Seeing the current market scenario, it is evident that having computer skills is a boon for a better career ahead.

So, rather than struggling with thousands of other things and trying to crack interviews, focus on the computer skills mentioned in this article. Utilize the resources and experts’ tips shared and look forward to having a successful and prosperous future.

Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com

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