On-Line Privacy and Other Myths

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From Previous Post –

Browsing Bowser Sighed   I sure hope this blogger writes soon about how to protect against cookies and leaving pawprints on the internet…

Response to Browsing Bowser’s Sigh

Sigh from the BloggerProtecting against cookies and not leaving pawprints on the internet? Now that’s a really big bone to chew! 

What you’re really asking is how to protect your privacy and security while browsing the internet. And that’s not easy to answer, Browsing Bowser.  Trying to just grasp on-line privacy and simplify an answer for you makes me feel like a Chihuahua trying to get hold of T-Rex’s ankle…  It is that BIG of a subject. And it is also that unsavory to tackle…  However, since on-line privacy is soooo important to everyone, I’m going to do what history’s greatest chewers do and try to take this one little bite at a time…

What is On-line Privacy All About?

It is all about keeping our personal information protected, secure and anonymous.  In our physical world, we keep important papers and treasures, for instance, in fireproof containers or lock boxes in some “safe” place.  We are careful to hide, to keep private the keys and the locations of our treasures.  If we have a famous or beautiful persona, we wear disguises to protect it while in public; we hide from photographers or take great precautions to keep our whereabouts private and secret.

So why do people invade our privacy?  Because we have something that is valuable or profitable to “them” and the way to exploit us is to violate our privacy.   Protecting privacy in the physical world can be a difficult if not deadly endeavor.

In the online world, protecting our privacy is equally critical and difficult.  We have a lot to lose as we become more dependent on the internet for just about everything we do.  There is so much personal information in cyberspace about each of us and exploiters are vacuuming up this information for both benign and nefarious purposes.  First-party cookies; third-party cookies; flash cookies; fingerprinting; householding – these are tracking methods used to gather information about us and our browsing habits without our knowledge or permission.

There are technologies and best practices available to attempt to block these tracking methods and guard our cyber anonymity.  However, the ones currently available are meager and/or ineffective at best.  Besides lacking consistency, effectiveness, robustness or even legal clout, these “protections” are often way too complex for the average cyber citizen to use anyway.    This is On-line Privacy Doggie Downer # 1

Then there’s the bottom line factor.  It seems that invading our privacy and harvesting data about us is hugely more profitable than protecting our privacy.  So this might explain the slow progress toward securing on-line privacy.  After all, where do the Big Dogs go? After the Big Bones, of course… On-line Privacy Doggie Downer # 2…

Oh, wow, it’s Browsing Bowser speaking here! – Right now I have my tail between my legs!  Give me some hope, please!!  Those technologies and practices that you say are available – tell me about some of them!  Knowledge is power and I desperately need to be empowered…

OK, Bowser.  Let’s explore a few protective practices.  But I warn you… We’re still looking at T-Rex’s big ankle…

Do Not Track Features

This is the most discussed browser privacy protection feature.  It sounds hopeful doesn’t it?  You have the option to tell marketers that you don’t want to be tracked! This feature is available in the four top browsers at present, but Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10 is the only one that enables this feature by default.  Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox have settings that can manually be set.  Make note that Google Chrome was the last browser to offer the feature.  And also be aware that it is not easy to enable this feature on any of the browsers.

But here’s the kicker…  Right now there is NO legislation to enforce the Do Not Track feature.  When this feature is enabled, all it does is “articulate” to a marketer that you don’t want to be tracked. It doesn’t compel them to comply with your request. At present the marketer can choose to respect your request or ignore it. So this feature is technically ineffective until legislation puts some meat on this bone… On-line Privacy Doggie Downer # 3…

InPrivate Browsing

InPrivate Browsing is a feature Microsoft introduced with Internet Explorer 8.  All later versions of this browser have this feature as well. The InPrivate Browsing feature allows you to “privately” surf the internet, meaning you won’t leave pawprints like which websites you visited. This feature is helpful to keep your web activities personal and private if you are using a shared or public computer.

Firefox and Safari call this feature “Private Browsing”.   Google Chrome calls it “Incognito Mode”.  When an InPrivate Browsing session is begun, there is an identifying indicator on the address line.  As long as the browser is open, InPrivate Browsing is in effect.  Once that browser is closed, the InPrivate session is no longer in effect and all data including form data, passwords and history will be discarded from the computer.

In essence this feature erases tracks; but be aware that this feature does not protect a user from being tracked.  Marketers still can use tracking practices within that session.  Also be aware that if you are doing InPrivate Browsing on a corporate network, your browsing sessions can still be tracked by a network administrator.  Home users using routers should also be aware that a router log can keep a record of the sessions as well.   So this is an On-line Privacy Doggie Upper # 1 and Downer # 4

What is the Safest Browser to use for Privacy?

NSS, a highly regarded security research and testing group reported this past July that, of the four top browsers, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10 has the best “out‐of‐the-box privacy configuration”.  Apple’s Safari browser was a close second regarding privacy.  The report continues – “Firefox has indicated that it intends to block third-party cookies and enable Do Not Track by default but, since it has yet to implement these changes, the browser currently trails IE and Safari. Google’s Chrome places a distant fourth, not only because of its default configuration and its obscure placement of privacy options, but also because Google’s history of evading privacy protections in other browsers.”  Source:  https://www.nsslabs.com/reports/2013-browser-security-comparative-analysis-privacy-0

Please note that this information is about privacy, not performance of these top browsers.  But this is a bit of good news and is On-line Privacy Doggie Upper # 2

Can Browser Add-ons provide additional protection?

In the same July report, NSS has this to say about Add-Ons:

“There are multiple third‐party add-ons for browsers that can increase user privacy significantly.  Proponents of a variety of browsers will point out that their browser offers just as much, or more privacy than another browser when a specific add-on, or set of add-ons, is used. It is important to note that while add-ons to browsers add features, it is at a cost; in addition to increasing browser load-time, add-ons also increase the attack surface of the browsers. There is a trade-off between add-ons and security that should not be dismissed when comparing browsers with add-ons to browsers without add-ons.”   Consider this On-line Privacy Doggie Upper # 3

Browsing Bowser here again.  Enough for now.  You were right…  There is a lot to chew on.  I’m encouraged by the Uppers, but I’m bone tired right now of all these Downers…  I’ve lost my taste for cookies…  I’m afraid to ask about fingerprinting…  and I don’t think I’ll howl at the moon tonight because I’m not really sure it isn’t a Google tracking device

Take heart, dear friend.  You were wise to understand that knowledge is power.  Keep on learning.  And be cautious always on the internet. Guard your security and privacy always.   Benjamin Franklin was right — “Distrust and caution are the parents of security. ” 


Mouse Traps and Keyboard Shortcuts

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I don’t like mice.  I don’t like real live mice and I don’t like computer mice (or is it mouses as in more than one mouse?)

Since this is a blog about all things digital, I will ignore how I deal with the real version and focus on the digital kind.

Why don’t I like the digital mouse?  Because it gets in my way…. I know — the digital mouse is a proven useful computer navigation device.  But it is also a slow and cumbersome device — and I prefer things fast or at least faster…

I am not a speedy typist on the keyboard.  I couldn’t earn a living with my “typing” speed.   So it is for that very reason that I don’t like the mouse — it slows me down even more.

Think about it… You’re typing along; suddenly you have to make some move with the mouse in order to continue doing what you’re doing. You take your hands off the keyboard, grab the mouse, fidget around to position it where you need it to be on the computer screen. Then you have to decide whether you need a left mouse click or a right mouse click. And, oh, do you need to single click or double click it? Wow! I don’t know about you but that kind of time interruption puts me over the moon!

So I prefer to use keyboard shortcuts whenever I can!   Keyboard shortcuts allow me to leave my hands on the keyboard as much as possible while I’m “computering”.   Shortcuts speed up my already slow typing speed.   Shortcuts help keep me from going over the moon, and they enhance my memory capabilities.   What could be better?

So, what’s a keyboard shortcut?   It is a combination of keyboard key strokes, that when pressed at the same time, perform an intended operation.

For instance, consider the common functions of copy, paste, cut, print.  If I’m on a Windows operating system computer and I want to quickly COPY a selection and PASTE it into another location, I highlight the selection I want to copy, press the “Ctrl” key and the “C” key at the same time to copy it; to paste the copied selection, I position the cursor at the insertion point, then press the “Ctrl” key and the “V” key. Voila! My copied selection is now pasted in the selected location.

If I want to PRINT something, I just press the “Ctrl” key and the “P” key at the same time, and my PRINT menu appears.

If I want to CUT some selection, I highlight that selection, then press “Ctrl” and the “X” key at the same time and my highlighted selection disappears. If I want to PASTE the “CUT” selection, I position the cursor at the insertion point and use my PASTE shortcut (Ctrl + V) and my selection appears (is “pasted”) at the insertion point.

Ctrl + C to Copy
Ctrl + V to Paste
Ctrl + X to Cut   
Ctrl + P to Print
Ctrl + A to Select All
Quick and easy to do and to remember!

Better yet, when I perform these shortcuts enough times, I don’t have to think about them. They become muscle memory for my fingers… Less mouse, more speed. I like that…

There are so many keyboard shortcuts that it would take a few pages to list them on this blog. You’d lose interest and not finish reading the post. But there are a lot of places to find lists of shortcuts for both Windows and Mac operating systems.

One place is on drop down menu lists. These menus display a function and its corresponding keyboard shortcut (if one exists). Open a drop down menu and see for yourself… Probably never even noticed it did you?

There are also many good websites that provide information about keyboard shortcuts.  Two good sites with printable lists for Windows keyboard shortcuts are:
•    http://shortcutmania.com/Windows-7-Keyboard-Shortcuts-printable-cheatsheet.htm
•    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/126449

A great site for Mac keyboard shortcuts and other tips is:
•    http://www.danrodney.com/mac/index.html

And a great table of keyboard shortcuts for Windows, Macs and other operating systems, believe it or not, is provided by Wikipedia.  Check out their comprehensive list:
•    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_keyboard_shortcuts

Think of keyboard shortcuts as a passing gear to get around those slow turtles on the cyber highway. There will always be turtles, but you don’t have to always drive in the slow lane…


I Was Browsing For…. And Now I’m Getting Ads For…. How Do They Know?

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I was taking my owner out for a walk in the rain the other day when I saw the coolest dog in our neighborhood sporting a new, bright yellow rain jacket.  And, whoa, rain booties to match!  Wow, what a canine fashionista that pooch was!  I decided right then and there that I had to find myself some new doggie duds, so I went online to start my quest to update my pooch persona.

I am dogmatic about quality so I went to throwmeabone.com, my online shopping site of choice.   Oooooh, the selections were to sit up and beg for!  But, you know, it wasn’t long after I was mousing around for my doggie desires that I started getting pop-up ads for things like giant droolicious dog bones; and 40 pound bags of grass-fed beef jerky treats; and real goose down doggie beds and…

“Wait a minute”, I thought to myself!  DogGoneIt How did they know those are things that I slobber for?  Who told them? I didn’t…   Or did I?

Actually, browsing bowser, you did tell “them”.   “Them” is the website that you visited and here’s how you left your pawprints there …

When you visited your favorite doggie website, throwmeabone.com, that site placed a cookie on your computer.  No, don’t think treats here.  A cookie is a small file, a tiny piece of text.  “Its job is to record bits of information such as the pages you have visited, items you put into an online shopping cart, your user name and password.” (information from http://www.techrepublic.com)

Without getting really technical, when you browsed to throwmeabone.com, that cookie allowed their web servers to store information about you and your browsing preferences on your computer.  That cookie also allowed those web servers to retrieve your info when you browsed to their site again in order to identify you.

But it gets a bit more complicated.  Besides their own product offerings, throwmeabone.com may use website content that they don’t have, like maps, ads, web analysis tools.  Instead of going to the expense of providing all that content on their site, they partner to get this “other” content from sites called “content providers” or “third-party providers”.  Content providers make their money by providing “content” to a large number of websites.  So, when you visited throwmeabone.com, information about you and your searching was gathered up, then sent to a content provider, who in turn, created a profile about your browsing preferences, which in turn was shared with other sites that also use the content provider’s “content”. And your shared browsing preferences became the source of pop-up ads and even future emails telling you about other doggie desires that might create an itch that you can scratch…

If none of this makes sense, don’t worry about it.  Just keep in mind that cookies, from this dog’s point of view, are an internet marketing ploy to make us slobber while emptying our doggie banks.

Sigh…   I sure hope this blogger writes soon about how to protect against cookies and leaving pawprints on the internet…

And come to think about it, wasn’t it a dog and his man that trained marketers to understand the slobber effect?

Blame it all on Pavlov…

Beware of the Smartphone That Pickpockets

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Contactless credit/debit cards are any credit card sized cards that have embedded chips that store, process and communicate data via radio waves.  They are called contactless because they aren’t swiped like conventional payment cards.  They are generally WAVED, not swiped to complete a purchase or other payment transaction.  

For instance, you have a contactless payment card and want to get through a toll booth.  You just WAVE the card at a payment reader, wait for the acceptance indicator, and voila! Transaction instantly completed and you just move right along.

Wow, what speed!  What convenience!  No signatures, no PINs, no contact.  Just wave and go.  What could be easier to use?

But the information contactless payment cards contain – what could be easier to lose?

Lose?  What do you mean, lose?  Lose my secure card information?  How can I lose it when I keep the card close to my body, hidden and secure in my wallet or purse or even underwear pockets?

Yes you can lose it and here’s how…  An identity thief, armed only with a scanning enabled smartphone that is aimed at your pocket, your purse or you, can find, read and harvest all of your card-held information – immediately — without ever making contact with you.  The perfect pickpocket… electronically, without contact.

You might still have your card but, actually, so does the thief…  And with your card info, he can immediately make online purchases; or he can share your information immediately with fellow baddies, let’s say who are in Singapore, via smartphones.  Then they too can go on spending sprees, right away with your card info. Gee, think of what these crooks can do in a crowded subway or shopping mall!

Haven’t heard of contactless cards?  Possibly not.  But it is estimated that there are about 100 million contactless cards in use.  VISA calls theirs PayWave; MasterCard named theirs PayPass; American Express’ is ExpressPay; and Discover calls their Zip.

As I searched for information about these payment cards, I found that the card vendors cite how much more “secure” these types of payment cards are over conventional “cards”.  There are even statements that there are no fraud activities reported.  That is a bit of marketing malarkey, however.  There are many reports about contactless card fraud and security breaches coming from the UK, Germany and Canada regarding this technology; and there are recorded demonstrations (done at security conferences) that frighteningly prove the real vulnerability of these cards.

One possible reason there are no big news stories about fraud with these cards is that most of these card vendors allow signature free credit card transactions for under $25.  Given these small charge amounts, it is easy for a victim to overlook fraudulent transactions when he checks his account activities — “crimes” that might not even be noticed.  But for the crooks, they can have at it in a big way with even small amounts of money.

Oh, did I mention that smartphones are now capable of doing “wave transactions” as well?   What a vision, smartphones pickpocketing smartphones!

Too bizarre to go any farther…  But, if you want to know more about this technology and details about these cards, search the internet for RFID (radio frequency identification) or contactless cards.  There’s a lot of info out there.  My purpose is not to explain the technology, but rather, to alert us all to the vulnerabilities it presents to our security.

However, I don’t want to leave you feeling totally vulnerable and at risk if you use these cards.  There are some silver bullets to try to protect against the guys with the black hats… (Sorry for the Lone Ranger stuff.  If you’re too young to know about the legend, you can always see the current movie version.  At least the silver bullet stayed true to the story…)

There are now very lightweight aluminum wallets to protect contactless cards; there are also protective sleeve like devices to protect against hacking of contactless cards.  But here’s one protector that I found a bit “cute”…

According to a Forbes article, there is a protective device called GuardBunny.  It supposedly “sits in a wallet alongside payment cards and blocks any would-be RFID fraudster…. Better still, when GuardBunny detects an RFID reader’s signal, it emits a high-pitched whining sound and its bunny icon’s eyes glow to warn of possible contactless pickpockets.”


Can’t you just picture this?  High-pitched whining and glowing eyes coming from your pants or purse or?  How could you not love having GuardBunny in your wallet right alongside all your identity?
A warm and fuzzy where you least expected it!

This post is only “something to chew on”.  My purpose is not to discourage the use of contactless cards and devices.  It is more to inform.  If you like the convenience of these “cards” at least be aware of the price of that convenience and how to possibly protect against being electronically pickpocketed….

Can Cleaning Damage a Monitor?

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If you read the post about cleaning computer keyboards, you’ll know I cautioned against using alcohols as cleaning agents on computer keyboards. However, isopropyl alcohol (IPA) specifically is suggested all over internet sites as a preferred cleaner for keyboards as well as monitors and TV screens. The Internet doesn’t lie, does it? So It must be a good cleaner, right? And yeah, I’ve used IPA as a cleaner and I know it is an effective cleaner against dirt and grime…

But doggoneit, wait a minute! Even though the internet recommends it and I’ve used it with some success, I also know it can  cause damage to plastics!  I know it because I took the finish off keys on a keyboard using IPA!   So, even though it is highly recommended, can IPA hurt my monitor? Me oh my! What is one to believe?

I believe, when in doubt, to err on the side of caution. I believe that experience trumps polyparrot advice. So when in doubt about cleaning monitors and TV screens, I thought it prudent to seek out the manufacturer’s advice.

After checking several manufacturers of LCD monitors, laptop screens and Plasma TVs for their recommended cleaning procedures, I found they have a few common best practices. These are:

  •  Always turn off the device and unplug the power cord from the wall or surge protector before cleaning.
  • Always use a clean, soft microfiber cloth to wipe surfaces to remove dirt and dust.
  • Always wipe in one direction to avoid streaks.
  • NEVER use cleaning products, paper towels, tissues or other abrasive materials to clean screens.
  • NEVER use alcohols or ammonia-based cleaners.
  • NEVER use aerosol or liquid cleaners sprayed directly on the screen.
  • NEVER use heavy pressure against the screen while cleaning.

If smudges remain after wiping, then moisten a clean microfiber cloth with water, wring it out to remove excess moisture and gently clean the dirty area.

For difficult dirt, Dell recommends a product called KlearScreen. Apple recommends a product called iKlear. Both products have good reviews and can be explored at http://www.KlearScreen.com.

One suggestion from the Dell site was to frequently wipe dust from the screen with the clean microfiber cloth, but not to clean the screen too frequently, even with a recommended cleaner. Dell explained that excessive cleaning can eventually wear away the special coatings on the surface of the monitor that are meant to make your computing experience easier on your eyes.

Hoping that these suggestions might help you see more clearly now…

Is Your Keyboard Infected?



If you do any internet search about dirty computer keyboards and how to clean them, one of the first attention grabbers you’ll read is how these modern devices of necessity harbor more germs than a toilet seat! Yep, disgusting as it is, this yucky tidbit is not just hype – there is research to back up this germy factoid. Research done in London and “…by the University of Arizona…found the average office desktop harboured 400 times more bacteria than the average office toilet seat.”

(May, 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7377002.stm).

If sticky keys, spilled drinks, food crumbs, dust, cat hair, dog paws and unreadable keys have not been enough reason for you to consider cleaning that keyboard, then, maybe 400 times more bacteria might motivate you.

OK, so it does motivate you! That’s Great! It does me too! But, doggoneit, what do I do about it? How do I clean my keyboard without doing damage to it? Do I need special cleaners? How do I keep it clean? My keyboard is so gross – should I just throw it away?

You ask really good questions! To answer them I’d like to share some cleaning techniques that have worked for me and will not do damage to your keyboard. Although there are keyboard cleaning products on the market, you don’t need to buy any special supplies. Most will be things you already have and use in your household. And for that really disgusting keyboard that you think will defy cleaning and maybe ought to head for the trash can, I have one tip I love sharing. That will come last….

What you’ll need for cleaning:

Small bowl of water with a drop of dishwashing soap

Can of compressed air (if you don’t have this a hair dryer is an ok substitute)

Cotton swabs or lint free cloth


(Warning1: some websites will suggest using rubbing or isopropyl alcohol to clean keys. I once rubbed the finish off on keys using alcohol so I don’t recommend them for cleaning keyboards. It might have been that I was just rubbing too hard, but alcohols can harm plastics – so I share this caution.)

(Warning 2: Never use a vacuum cleaner around a computer. Vacuum cleaners create a lot of static electricity that when discharged can destroy electronics/chips (think motherboards). This one comes from personal experience also. I did not LOL.)

Step One:

Unplug the keyboard from the PC or Mac.

If a laptop, turn the laptop off and unplug it before cleaning the keyboard.

General Cleaning: (For all keyboards)

Blow out dust and other crud from the keyboard with a can of compressed air.

o A hair dryer on high blowing also works well. It does not have to be on high heat.

o Tilt the keyboard or laptop while blowing to have easier access to the underside of the keys. This also lets dirt and debris blow out of or fall away from the keyboard.

Swab between the keys with Q-tips moistened with the water/dish cleaner solution

o Don’t pour liquids onto the keyboard. Pour onto the cloth or Q-tips, then apply as cleaner.

o If you do get too much cleaner on the keyboard, use the hair dryer to dry it.

Wipe the keys down with the cleaning solution until the grit and grime are removed.

• Allow time to dry; then plug the keyboard in, start the PC or Mac and get back to work. If laptop, just start it up and work away.

• Some sites recommend using antibacterial wipes regularly after the cleaning.

More Daring and More Difficult Cleaning Technique:

Remove the keys…. One by one.

I DON’T recommend this process for several reasons. The keys are not always that easy to remove; the keys and the keyboard can be damaged with this process; and you better remember how to put them back in the right places…. Keyboards vary.

Here’s my last suggestion.

• It is ONLY for the wired standard keyboard that looks hopelessly filthy.

• It is NOT for laptop keyboards for reasons that will be obvious.

• It is NOT for wireless keyboards.

• It is NOT for metal keyboards.

• It is NOT recommended by manufacturers. But I’ve done it many times and it cleans the dirtiest keyboards

• It is to…

Put it in the Dishwasher:

• Have an extra keyboard on hand to use while this one dries.

• Some techs recommend taking the back off the keyboard and remove the electronics .

o I didn’t follow this advice. I just put mine in the dishwasher in its whole and dirty condition. I did this more than once, always with success.

• Put the keyboard in the dishwasher. Run on quick cycle. Don’t use the pot scrubber cycle.

• Remove and dry thoroughly. This may take several days (even up to 7 days).

o Not doing so can cause shorting and damage to you and the devices….

Final Suggestion:

Once you have a clean keyboard, you might consider purchasing a covering called a skin that will protect it against spills and dirt under the keys, yet not interfere with the touch experience that you have become accustomed to….

So that’s the DogGone down and dirty about cleaning up computer keyboards.

Concerned About Electronic’s Radiation? Try Going Barefoot

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“When you walk barefoot, free electrons are transferred from the earth into your body, and this grounding effect is one of the most potent antioxidants we know of…  Grounding has numerous benefits, aside from creating a general feeling of well-being.  For example, walking barefoot can help ameliorate the constant assault of electromagnetic fields and other types of radiation from cell phones, computers and Wi-Fi.”

Excerpted from mercola.com:
“Grounding Helps Thin Dangerously Thick Blood and Fights Inflammation and Disease” 
August 4, 2013.

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