Feature

Security: Safeguarding your Web data

Big Silicon Valley companies have announced plans to tighten up security to “shield” users of their services from spying.

Call it “the Snowden effect,” said Nicole Perlroth and Vindu Goel in The New York Times. Having registered the public’s ire over mass government surveillance, big Silicon Valley companies have decided that “it is no longer enough to have a fast-loading smartphone app or cool messaging service.” Google, Mozilla, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, and, most recently, Microsoft have all announced plans to tighten up security to “shield” users of their services from spying. They are embracing tougher encryption methods in what “has effectively become a digital arms race with the National Security Agency.” Until recently “many companies were reluctant to employ modern protections, worried that upgrades would slow down connections and add complexity to their networks.” But now that Americans have begun to chafe at stories about NSA surveillance, the tech firms desperately want to “reassure customers that they are doing what they can to protect their data.”

With good reason, said Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani in The Washington Post. According to the latest revelations from ex–NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the spy agency “is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.” The NSA says it doesn’t target domestic locations, but admits it has gathered some Americans’ data “incidentally” by tapping into cables that connect mobile networks around the globe, and has collected more “from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.” When analyzed by so-called CO-TRAVELER programs, the data can be used to track people “into confidential business meetings or personal visits to medical facilities, hotel rooms, private homes, and other traditionally protected spaces.”

Regardless of what the NSA and Silicon Valley are up to, too many users aren’t doing what they can on their own to secure their data, said Anick Jesdanun in the Associated Press. That starts with better passwords. “Security experts say passwords for more than 2 million Facebook, Google, and other accounts have been compromised and circulated online.” It’s downright embarrassing that the most common password is “123456.” The best passwords are long combinations of numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and symbols. Avoid words that are in dictionaries and add a second layer of protection by enabling two-step verification, which sends a code as a text message to your phone that you need to enter along with your password to get access. That helps stop a hacker who “may have your password but lacks ready access to your phone.”

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