Happiness

The Art of Reducing Paranoia

The subject of privacy is much like American politics: there are two main camps and they hate each other. I normally don’t worry about that but after recent events I noticed tinfoil hats appear on my head to the point where it was beginning to make me uncomfortable. I aim for moderacy, yet I was starting to question everything.

I finally resolved to sort through the chaff, separate paranoia from reality as much as possible, make adjustments where needed, and get on with my life. I was beginning to get on my own nerves.

It is reasonable to assume that anything you put online can be hacked, tracked, or somehow compromised if someone is determined enough. While there are ways to make it harder for all but the most determined to associate your web browsing with you, the moment you use your credentials to login to a website all assumptions of privacy can be considered forfeit. Websites, phone service, and Internet providers are all known for storing information. And since all of the above have been known to be hacked or otherwise reveal said information to other parties, a cautious approach would be to assume that anything one places over the Internet may not remain private forever.

It is also reasonable to assume that any device one uses to connect to the Internet has the potential of revealing more information than you would like. Articles about hacked baby cameras along with the occasional hacked television, phone, or computer confirm this assumption. I know for a fact that a talented hacker can quietly seize control of systems, browse your files, add your system to a botnet, or do other nasty things. I have worked with computers far too long not to be aware of the power of a determined hacker.

That said, one can achieve a reasonable level of privacy without being paranoid about it. If Osama bin Laden, the most hunted man in recent United States history, could avoid being located for a decade by some of the most determined hackers in the world by utilizing a low-tech solution, the average person can achieve some privacy as well.

One of the primary ways that bin Laden used to avoid being tracked was to keep his computer completely disconnected from the Internet. This method is called air-gapping, and is used by security techs and privacy experts worldwide. Air-gapping is extremely simple: Select a computer that does not contain a wifi card, do not connect it to any network that contains any sort of connection to the Internet, and use that machine to store your sensitive documents. Governments have used this method to protect sensitive data for decades and they use this practice even today. As long as someone cannot get physical access to a computer, this method provides a reasonable level of privacy.

If one is concerned about an undesirable person gaining physical access to an air-gapped system, there is an additional layer of security that can be used called encryption. Modern operating systems will offer to encrypt either the entire hard drive or the user folder; barring that, compression programs (ZIP files) can be encrypted so that they cannot be opened unless you type in a password.

Aside from my iDevices, every other system I own can be manually disconnected from the Internet and shut down. Since there are concerns about iDevices (and even my Katie’s Android phone) recording sound and video, I analyzed my daily patterns. The three most common statements I make on a daily basis are:

  1. “I just let you out ten minutes ago! Okay, let me finish what I’m doing and I’ll take you out again.”
  2. “Will you hurry up and pee already? I’m freezing (or sweating, depending upon season).”
  3. “I can’t give you treats unless you move out of my way!”

Anyone who hacks a camera in my home will be treated to the view of my wrinkly, saggy, toothless body. If I don’t break the camera, I doubt they would linger I’m so scary. If someone is that desperate for a free show, let them have at it. I really do not care. As for ads popping up related to private conversations whenever I go online, fuck them. I don’t buy that much stuff and I am slowly shifting what little I do buy to smaller, less intrusive companies so let them waste their time and their money trying to convince me to buy their crap. I will use those ads as a reminder not to shop at their stores and be done.

That said, I spend an immense amount of time writing in my journal or working up these posts when I am not beating my head against the keyboard as I attempt to bleed out another book. I also read books on a wide variety of subjects that would raise eyebrows for the casual visitor.

Those are the things that I truly want to keep private. Nobody needs to be exposed to some of the more eccentric ways I use as I compose these posts and I have no desire for anyone to have access to my intimate thoughts. I have had my fill of critism concerning my personal reading choices, so some of my more colorful titles need to be kept private as well.

This review calmed my nerves immensely and told me what I needed to do. A single computer kept completely disconnected from the Internet would resolve all of my privacy concerns. By dedicating a single system to my writing, journal, and more colorful reading material, I would have a reasonable assurance of privacy.

I selected my desktop computer for my safe haven. I installed a spare hard drive, encrypted it, and installed Linux Lite. Once I got it configured and updated, I disconnected the ethernet cable, transferred my personal files over, and breathed a sigh of relief.

I chose Linux over Windows because Windows 10 has gotten on my last nerve. Despite the fact that I have dug deep into the settings, configuing it to stay OFF when I turn it off, Windows 10 insists upon turning itself on at 5am each and every morning. While I didn’t want to erase Windows 10 entirely, I decided to completely disconnect the hard drive from the system while I continue my research into the issue. Since Linux stays off when you turn it off, it was a no-brainer for me. Few things are more disturbing than being awakened by your computer attempting to contact the mothership, scan your system, and God knows what else! I was already nervous enough without having to deal with that nonsense.

Due to the sensationalism that comes part and parcel with modern media, it can be difficult to avoid paranoia or emotional upset. If you allow yourself to step back and think things through, however, you will often discover that things are not as bad as they seem. Simply by stepping back and thinking things through, I eliminated my paranoia and got on with my life.

Have you ever grown paranoid over things in your personal life? How did you resolve the problem? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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I’ve written a lot of books sharing my odd view of life in hopes of helping others. My most notorious book is titled The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, but The Minimalist Cleaning Method is pretty popular as well. You can find them at the following places:

Amazon
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Smashwords (non-DRM)

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2 Comments

  • Essie

    Thinking about the intrusion into and the loss of my privacy due to technology causes me stress and anxiety. So, like 99% of Americans, I tell myself, well, I am not commiting any crimes and I am not a terrorist. I have nothing to hide.

    I know I am being stupid about it and carelessly giving away my personal data but in the words of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

    https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/c7ae9d4c-76b9-455c-a55a-54dc5081944b#V0g2EP9Qq.copy

    • Annie

      I understand, Essie. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to do that. I was placed on an extremist watchlist many years ago due to the fact that I used (and still use) the Linux operating system and I use the technological tools I have available to skirt the censorship laws that have quietly been put into place.

      I stumbled upon that fact by accident. A coffee shop I frequented received a flyer stating that they needed to provide the names and info on every Linux user that visited that shop, calling us “potential cyber-terrorists.” A fellow Linux user worked there and showed me the flyer. Even visiting the wrong website or shopping for the wrong items can get you placed on a list these days.

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/07/03/nsa_xkeyscore_stasi_scandal/
      I’m also on the list because I visit a certain Linux website: https://www.linuxjournal.com/content/nsa-linux-journal-extremist-forum-and-its-readers-get-flagged-extra-surveillance

      I saw a flier once that stated that people who stockpiled food should be considered extremists as well. I’ll try to find it and share the link here.

      So be careful, my friend.