Stories by Alex Wawro

Smash smartphone. Throw it in the ocean. Hope DriveSavers doesn't get it.

A Northern California man being pursued by police smashes his own smartphone and throws it into the ocean. The evidence is gone, right? But wait: The police retrieve the phone. Where it goes next, and what happens to it there, is like the geekiest possible CSI episode you've ever seen--and a window into the everyday tedium and triumph at the biggest name in data recovery.

Alex Wawro | 05 Jun | Read more

Find your own private Internet with Freenet

Anonymous peer-to-peer communication on the Internet isn't just a handy tool for privacy enthusiasts; it's critical for preserving free speech in the digital world. Anonymous file-sharing services like BitTorrent are legion, but their utility is limited--you can share only files--and their reputations are unfairly tarnished by people who use them to share media illegally. If you're looking for a highly anonymous peer-to-peer network with websites, forums, and more, look no farther than the Free Network, one of the best-kept secrets in anonymous communication.

Alex Wawro | 31 May | Read more

Get your privacy ducks in a row with DuckDuckGo

Google, Bing, and Yahoo are bitter rivals in their quest for your search engine affection, but they have at least one thing in common: They track your search history and tailor the results of your queries to your interests. Yes, they're attempting to improve your search experience, but that sort of surveillance is anathema to privacy enthusiasts and anyone who doesn't want to be stuck in an echo chamber of their own interests. DuckDuckGo is a different kind of search engine, designed to capitalize on the big shots' poor privacy practices by offering an alternative that's simple and anonymous.

Alex Wawro | 19 Apr | Read more

Get ready for Facebook Graph Search

Facebook has a new tool that lets you search for people based on their Facebook activity. It's called Graph Search, and it's gradually becoming available to every Facebook user on the planet. Once you have access--there's a waiting list--you'll be able to use it to find information such as restaurants your friends have liked, old photos containing specific family members, and alumni from your alma mater who live near your next vacation spot.

Alex Wawro | 01 Mar | Read more

How to sacrifice your online privacy for fun and profit

You have value--and not just as a good friend, loving family member, and upstanding member of society. You're also a valuable commodity that companies buy and sell. Your age, browsing habits, and friends lists are all hot properties. And yes, all this data is recorded, packaged, and sold to the highest bidder by your favorite websites.

Alex Wawro | 12 Feb | Read more

Back Up Safely With SpiderOak

Every backup service worth its salt uses encryption to keep your data safe from snoops, but Spider­Oak goes one step further by promising to keep your data private from its own employees. Although you still should use common sense in choosing what to upload to any service, I believe that SpiderOak is one of the best secure online backup options available.

Alex Wawro | 05 Aug | Read more

Spotflux Guards Your Privacy for Free

Keeping your data private while you’re browsing the Web can be time-consuming if you want to stop malware, IP-address snoopers, and malicious ads. Spotflux, a New York startup, is aiming to change that with a no-cost, easy-to-use program that encrypts your Internet connection, anonymizes your IP address, and reduces your risk of infection while you surf. Did I mention that it’s free?

Alex Wawro | 21 Jun | Read more

What Is Deep Packet Inspection?

It's easy to turn a deaf ear to the controversy surrounding recent copyright protection bills like the <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/244011/the_us_stop_online_piracy_act_a_primer.html">Stop Online Piracy Act</a> (SOPA) or the <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/242523/group_new_version_of_protect_ip_may_target_legal_sites.html">PROTECT IP Act</a>, which threatened to curtail free speech on the Internet by allowing the U.S. Department of Justice to blacklist and block access to websites suspected of copyright infringement. Most of us don't visit websites suspected of illegally distributing copyrighted material, so blocking us from accessing them seems harmless. But should your <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/241591/faq_will_your_isp_protect_your_privacy.html">ISP</a> ever be legally obligated to prevent you from accessing restricted websites, it will have to find a way to monitor your online activity, and that could cause your privacy to be compromised if your ISP employs deep packet inspection tools to keep tabs on you.

Alex Wawro | 02 Feb | Read more

How to lock down your wireless network

If you operate a wireless network for your home or business, it's important to ward it against opportunistic hackers seeking to steal your data or hijack your Wi-Fi for their own nefarious purposes. We spoke to Steven Andrés, CTO of security consulting firm Special Ops Security, to learn about the best ways to lock down your Wi-Fi. To get started, you'll need to log in to your router's administrative console by typing the router's IP address into your Web browser's address bar. Most routers use a common address like 192.168.1.1, though alternatives like 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.2.1 are also common. Check the manual that came with your router to determine the correct IP address; if you've lost your manual, you can usually find the appropriate IP address on the manufacturer's website.

Alex Wawro | 12 Nov | Read more

Hackers Crack Internet Encryption: Should You Be Worried?

Data encryption is the cornerstone of Internet security. Every time you log into your email account or sign into an online retailer like Amazon, chances are that your browser is establishing a secure connection to the server using an encryption technology called TLS (Transport Layer Security).

Alex Wawro | 05 Oct | Read more

A Hacker Speaks: How Malware Might Blow Up Your Laptop

We depend on our computers to get work done, and so we try to safeguard them appropriately. But our trusty laptops, desktops, and tablets rely on their own internal network of sophisticated computer chips to function. These tiny chips--called microcontrollers--regulate everything from the battery in your laptop to the headlights on your car--and they aren’t always so secure.

Alex Wawro | 30 Jul | Read more

How to build better passwords without losing your mind

Your e-mail password is your last line of defense when it comes to online privacy and security; if a hacker cracks that, they could potentially reset the passwords of and gain access to your social networks, your bank account and even your identity by taking advantage of the ubiquitous "I Forgot My Password" button.

Alex Wawro | 05 May | Read more

Diaspora: An antidote for your Facebook privacy problems

Our social networks say a lot about us. When you register with a Website like Facebook, you voluntarily give up personal information like your name, photo, and phone number in exchange for the privilege of access to a network that makes it easy to keep in touch with friends and family. Facebook then makes money aggregating that information for sale to advertisers looking to target groups of potential customers with specific ages and interests. It’s an information economy, and to be clear, Facebook cleaves to a privacy policy that only permits the sharing of “non-personally identifiable attributes” with advertisers.

Alex Wawro | 30 Mar | Read more

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