Computer/Internet Privacy Tips

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by Damocles, 25 Oct 2018.

  1. Damocles


    14 Jan 2009
    So if you're a bit of a weirdo like myself, the fundamental right to privacy and not being spied on is an important topic to you. I believe in the maxim that not protecting your privacy because you have nothing to hide is as stupid as the notion of not defending free speech because you have nothing to say. Me and a mate got talking about this this afternoon and I said I'd write up a general list for him as he's also a weirdo (a Doomsday Prepper) so thought I may as well put it here too if there's any interest.

    This sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory but unfortunately it's deadly true and it's the world we live in - almost every electronic gadget or major piece of software is collating data on you and they work with Government organisations across the world. This may not be a problem if you live in Blackley that BT will work with GCHQ and allow them access to their internet systems, but if you're in China or Saudi Arabia then it suddenly becomes extremely important. Companies that produce the hardware that the internet runs on have built in backdoors for the spying agencies and others are just vulnerable but everybody looks the other way.

    I don't like the idea of the Government looking over my shoulder all the time. I don't like the fact that I'm not allowed to use Pirate Bay, an internet website that contains nothing but links to other places, because a court was railroaded by a broken copyright sector. I don't like the idea that any time I send a message to family in China, that is intercepted and automatically scanned by the UK Government and depending on the route the email takes, either the Russian or US Government, then obviously the Chinese Government. I don't like the idea that my phone microphone and/or webcam can record me any time of the day or night just by lettered agencies turning it on.

    I don't luke the fact that even with ad blockers and script detectors on, companies track my movements across the internet to collect information on me to sell to people. I don't like that Google automatically links every search to that ID as well as tracking where I've been with my phone in my pocket all in its own history that cannot be deleted without sending them a letter. Nor that Facebook has data graphs that can show every person I've ever spoken to, and those who I'm likely not friends with on social media but have an association with, and sell that information to advertisers.

    So I've compiled a bit of a list of tips so that you can use the internet and get around this as best you can.


    The general notion is that if you want to add security you often lose a bit of functionality in some areas. There's not a lot that you can do about this in a very broad sense, as the internet/world wide web wasn't designed with privacy or secure communication in mind so everything is a bit of a hack on top of a hack to make it work. However these things generally allow what I think is a fair trade off between the two.

    Starting point - Open vs Closed source

    This is an important point to cover because it makes a big difference to computing. There are two types of programs/website; those where you can see the source code that the program/site is using whenever you want and those where you can't see it and the program/site operates as a black box that you feed info into and get info out of with no idea how it works.

    Open source software is significantly better for everybody involved. Because although you might not personally be a programmer, you can know that there are a ton of programmers who will be checking all the little details to make sure that there are no security or privacy holes in that piece of software. If it is closed source, you have to trust the company that makes it. And nobody sane would trust Microsoft.

    Open source also allows you to modify it if you can program to make it do what you want and feed that functionality back into the main project. Obviously there are tons of safeguards around this and it has to be peer reviewed and accepted by the project owner.

    Finally, almost all open source software is free of charge to use and doesn't require expensive licenses. If it helps anything, the entirety of the Bluemoon site and server infrastructure is built using open source software as is almost every major website in the world.

    Operating System

    This will be the biggest problem for most people here - you have to get off Windows 10. Even if you do absolutely nothing else on this list then this is the biggest and most important one. Microsoft is changing its business model over the past few years and Windows 10 is the earliest iteration of their new service based model. To list the amount of ways that the operating system spys on you would take absolutely forever, it's even running personalised ads in your Start Menu now and even if you turn off all of these things and turn on all the privacy options, it still sends the data to the Microsoft servers - it just doesn't serve you the advertisements. Every program you've ever ran, every video you've ever downloaded, every everything you've ever done is logged to some degree and much of it is sent straight to Microsoft for them to sell. EVEN if you run W10Privacy, it doesn't clear it and Windows will turn on these services in the background after you've turned them off.

    Apple's operating systems are similar but to a much lesser degree. They still are quite invasive but Win10 has moved the bar so far higher than anybody else previously that Apple looks positively tame in comparison. It's still pretty bad.

    The recommended OS is one of the Linux family. For people who have never used Linux, then Linux Mint is the recommended flavour of Linux to help you get your bearings. It's UI is Windows like and it is based on Ubuntu which is the most popular Linux based OS and almost everything that will work on Linux will work on Ubuntu based distributions. It was specifically designed to make the transition from Windows to Linux unpainful. I personally use an Ubuntu based distribution, albeit one called Kubuntu as it's a bit more to my tastes.

    The most popular thing you'll have to sacrifice is the usage of the Adobe suite of software like Photoshop and the rest of Creative Cloud. They don't have Linux versions and aren't easily ran through the emulated versions. However Linux has its own versions of the creative applications which work fine.

    Replace MS Office with LibreOffice (should be preinstalled on Linux Mint), MS Outlook with Thunderbird, Steam runs and now attempts to emulate Windows only games (to lesser or greater degrees), VLC runs better on Linux than Windows, Spotify client works well on Linux, etc. Any custom business software might struggle and would need to be checked first - however if it's that desperate than you can easily setup a virtual Windows machine and run it inside that.

    Everything else I'm going to mention runs on both Linux and Windows.


    GMail is one of those "get the hell away from now" things on the list. The security has been repeatedly compromised, the mail scanners are intense, Google will search your mail for certain terms and flag you if it finds too many of them, it tracks a bunch of identifiable information and works with all major agencies freely.

    I'd recommend ProtonMail. ProtonMail has full 4096 bit encryption and is an open source, privacy conscious project. If you lose or forget your password then you're screwed because they don't know it, can't reset it and it is the encryption key for all of your stored emails. The emails are actually encrypted on your computer before being sent to their mail servers so there's no chance of intercept. They have very good Android and Apple Store apps as well as web/browser based site. Honestly have never had a problem with them personally.

    ProtonMail has undergone several DDoS attacks by state sponsored hackers and survived them all. That's usually an extremely good sign; when Governments attack software projects then you should pay attention to that project and see what it is that they don't want you to use about it. The guys who develop/own it are a former CERN scientist and a former MIT engineer so they're proper into it all.


    There's no reason that I can see why anybody would use Google Chrome. It's not the fastest on the market any more, it's full of privacy holes, Google again basically use it to do whatever they want with you and there are tons of better on the market. Internet Explorer is a joke that I won't dignify with an answer but if you're using it then stop using it and how does it feel to enter the 21st century? Firefox is okay if you can set it up properly but that takes a lot of work.

    I use and recommend the Brave browser. Brave is based on the open source version of the Chrome engine that actually works a bit better than the Google version as it isn't loaded with so much crap. So this means your Chrome extensions will work in Brave. Also, Brave has great internet security built in - it automatically blocks trackers, ads and 3rd party cookies as well as other undesirables such as web based bitcoin miners yet has an extremely simple interface for turning them on and off for every site you use. It's also the fastest fully functional browser around. If you use it on mobile it actually saves you a ton of data too.

    Finally, Brave has an interest "post advertising" view of the internet and how it might work whereby they will (in the future) allow you choose to view certain non-intrusive non-identifying advertisements and reward you with Bitcoins which you then can donate easily to the website creator. It's a good idea and a decent way of solving the problem of ad blocking. Or you can just give them money and they'll sort you out with some credits rather than viewing ads. Either way.


    As you may notice is a bit of a pattern here, get the hell away from Google to as high a degree as you can. I personally use Searx is an interesting new concept for a search engine - it works by aggregating a bunch of different search engines and sharing that data in a way not too dissimilar to how torrents are used. As with everything on this list, it is open source. So it will simultaneously search Google, Bing, Yahoo but also the reddit and Twitter search engines (amongst others, it has 80ish different search engines under its belt at the moment and growing all the time). It is totally anonymous with no logged searches or IP addresses. So it gives what I think are superior results to Google with better privacy and, if you use Brave, you can tell Brave to use it as the default search engine which saves messing about.


    A VPN is a server that sits between you and the internet and allows you to escpae monitoring by any Government or more likely, ISPs. If you've ever had a letter from your ISP about downloading a torrent then you'll know that ISPs log every single piece of data that goes through their servers with your personally identifiable information next to it.

    Use NordVPN. I could give you a ton of technical and security reasons why it is the best and most secure VPN out there but it's pretty complicated stuff. It has the best legal policies, it's cheap, it's fast and it works well with a server list all over the globe. Never use a free VPN. Free VPNs are a scam - servers cost money and they need a way to monetise. That is usually by selling your browsing habits to advertisers attached to your IP address but some do some more malicious stuff.


    Without going into things like using TOR, which I tend to think is unnecessary unless you're doing something highly illegal and certainly not worth the performance trade off, then these are the basics of it all. Each of these things is only a small jump but will severely boost your online and offline privacy with little to no interruption in how you use your apps. The biggest change is obviously the operating system and it's the most important one too. Then probably VPN, Browser, Search and Email in that order. But switching to any one of these will actually help and you never know, you might prefer them to the originals.
  2. Paladin


    10 Jan 2009
    Excellent advice, and a few there I'll check out.

    I do 95% of my internet stuff on my iPhone these days. Are all these things available on mobile devices too?

    I already use Nord VPN. They currently have an offer of three years at a pretty reasonable price. The offer is due to expire soon.
  3. Damocles


    14 Jan 2009
    Android is better for privacy than Apple - especially if you root it to take out all of the proprietary crap that comes from vendors such as Samsung. but you work with what you have really.

    However, all of the above have App Store apps too and they are good quality.


  4. BimboBob


    7 Jul 2008
    Listen, Can you smell something?
    Let's talk gaming.

    Win10 games. How do I run them without win10 or am I being thick? Graphic cards. The drivers are usually optimised for win10 gaming. Do they do the same with Linux?
  5. Kinkladze 1

    Kinkladze 1

    29 Apr 2015
    OP - great post.
  6. oldtimerdiscopants


    10 Aug 2018
    I have just changed to the Brave browser and it does seem to be noticeable faster, whilst I was in the area proton mail has been added to my list too. The points about windows 10 are much publicised and I concur that Linux mint (Version 19 I believe now) is a great operating system and with a little adaptation and effort it gives the user much the same experience albeit for free that windows users get.
    Gaming however does appear to be a bit naff on Linux systems compared to windows (I'm not a gamer in any way this is just an opinion based on loose facts)but this is all about a trade off, I use Linux for ebay and secure browsing and if the children want to play games I switch to windows, dual booting is easy you can have both windows and Linux booting from the same machine all you have to do it restart your computer and select from a drop down list. To dual boot try a tool like Rufus, just download a Linux Mint distro and put it on a USB using Rufus and you can even try the OS without installing it.
  7. citizen_maine


    29 May 2011
    Great post mate - many thanks.
    Couple of questions
    If i install Linux Mint, will it eradicate Win10 from my PC, or will i need to do additional stuff?
    If I install ProtonMail, can I retain my existing email address?
  8. oldtimerdiscopants


    10 Aug 2018
    Installing Linux Mint will not eradicate windows 10 from your PC during installation it will ask if you want to install the operating system alongside windows, you will have a choice which operating system to boot from when your PC boots up.
  9. Trevor Morley's Tache

    Trevor Morley's Tache

    23 Nov 2016
    I have Mint on my old Netbook. I ran it alongside W10 for a while until I binned off Windows. You just select the OS on start up.

    Search for "how to dual boot". It's pretty straightforward, but you do need to make sure you follow the guide. I would suggest fully backing up all your files first though.
  10. inbetween


    28 Jan 2010
    N53.68 W02.71
    Great post but a tad tin foil hattish.

    Windows 10 is the most stable platform for just about everything and regular use plus you can turn the spy stuff off using the many tools available on the net. The great downside to the alternatives like Linux is you are freed from the privacy concerns but you are also free of having any use for the operating system. Linux/OSX etc are just not able to run most things plus Linux is ridiculously complicated.

    I use NordVPN but it is terrible for things like downloading because your internet speed is reduced to whatever the capability is of the server you are connected to. Normally I'll get 6-8mb/s and on a VPN I get 1-2mb/s so well over a 50% speed penalty..

    Unless you are engaged in something highly illegal and/or need to cover your tracks then most people will want and need to stay on Windows 10 and a regular environment.

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