Categories
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.

~#~

If you happen to find this post helpful, would you consider sharing it with a friend or on social media?  Thanks!


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
Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

Categories
Personal Security

Gremlins?

Remember when I wrote about the strange advertising issue I experienced recently? A friend of mine in another section of the country reminded me of another incident that happened several weeks ago. I want to share that incident with you today because this is becoming rather creepy.

As many of you know, I search out random subjects on the Internet for sport. I’ve done this for decades; whenever something pops in my head I reach for my computer and look it up. Maybe I do this since I grew up before the Internet was a thing and felt starved for information. I don’t know, but this is just something I do on a daily basis.

Several weeks back (a couple of months, maybe?) I was reminded of a high-profile criminal case in my area. I fired up my favorite search engine to refresh myself of the details.

I could find nothing.

I thought I was going insane. I remembered the case like it was yesterday; why wasn’t anything related to the incident showing up in my search results? Have I lost my touch? While I was digging, an old friend, who lives in a different geographical region than I do, happened to send me a message. I shared my frustration at my inability to locate anything on the incident. While I was venting, my friend ran a search on the subject.

The information I was seeking appeared on the first page of my friend’s results.

We were using the exact same search terms. We were using the exact same search engine. My friend pulled up the information easily but nothing relevant appeared in my results. We thought it curious, so I fired up the DuckDuckGo search engine and repeated the query.

I found what I was searching for on the very first page.

When my friend reminded me of that earlier incident, I realized that there may be something going on with my searches on this particular search engine in particular. For the past couple of weeks, I have ran troubleshooting procedures on my internet connection multiple times because when I would search for particular topics, the results page frequently wouldn’t load; if it did load and I clicked on a result, sometimes the link I clicked on wouldn’t load. Many times the results it displayed were completely irrelevant to my particular search.

Curious, I fired up Tor Browser to mask my location and identity a bit and typed in the queries that had been giving me issues.

The results appeared. I didn’t have a single issue clicking on the links or anything. I was able to locate the information I had been searching for without a single problem.

I don’t know what’s going on. I may be over-reacting. But I am starting to wonder if, for some mysterious reason, I’ve been shadow-banned on a particular search engine when I search out particular subjects. When combined with the strange advertising issue (which has yet to reappear since my Katie discussed it in front of our devices), I am beginning to wander if there is more happening in the background than I realize.

Over-reacting or no, I have started using Tor more and more for my everyday Internet searches. I don’t know what’s going on but I am starting to grow concerned.

If you are experiencing a similar issue, you may want to consider using DuckDuckGo as your search engine to see if that resolves your issue. If you are feeling paranoid (like I’m starting to become), you may want to consider installing the Tor Browser to obscure your searches a bit more. It isn’t perfect but it’s better than nothing.

And if you are experiencing a similar issue or have in the past, please let me know in the comments of this post. I would like to find out if this is an isolated occurrence.

NOTE: This bit of information is for the curious.


It is hypocritical to run a website about buying and living on less while begging your readers to buy your crap so I refuse to do it. That said, I live on the money I receive from book sales, so if you can find it in your heart to pitch in I would be immensely grateful.

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
Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

Categories
Life Security

Are We Being Watched?

I was born in an age where many people could not afford a telephone. An age where the Middle Class splurged for a Party Line (a single phone line shared between multiple households). One was considered wealthy if they could afford a phone at all, and only the “truly rich” could afford a private line or a long-distance phone call.

Such was the era that I grew up in that I didn’t even realize that computers were real until I started middle school. The only time I ever saw them was on television, so I dismissed them as fantasy.

Perhaps this is why I continue to be so fascinated by the machines today. I am astounded by the fact that a device as small as the palm of my hand can be used to connect with what seems to be a limitless amount of knowledge and information. I doubt that this is something that I will ever take for granted.

I have watched computers grow from keyboard-shaped devices that you connected to a television to becoming devices that are part of the television. They are even an integral part of automobiles, microwaves, air conditioners, thermostats, and innumerable other devices scattered around the average home. More and more of these computing devices have now gained the ability to connect to the Internet. They have even coined a new term for the phenomena, the “Internet of Things (IoT).”

While I am amazed at how far computers have come, I wonder about the long-term repercussions of having an entire home filled with devices that can “phone home” for updates and transmit “usage statistics.” Have we finally entered the age prophesied by George Orwell in his famous book 1984 or am I so old that I am just becoming paranoid?

My questioning began after my daughter and I discussed some items we would like to buy. Shortly after we had that conversation, I went online to do something and noticed that the ads were eerily related to that conversation.

I had never, not once, ever searched for the items in question.

How could a random website on the internet–multiple websites, actually (since the ads were repeated in various places) know that my daughter and I had been discussing this topic, a topic that had never occurred to me to be interested in prior to my daughter mentioning it to me?

No one else was in the room. My computer has neither microphone nor camera installed. The television is an older hand-me-down from my daughter, so it’s incapable of connecting to the Internet. My iPad was on the table as we had that discussion, however. And my iPad uses WiFi to connect to the Internet.

My daughter and I conducted an experiment after that event. She had noticed the same thing happening to her when she talked about things around her smartphone and was curious as well. We turned up some music, placed our gadgets by the speaker, and huddled in the bathroom to formulate our plan.

Sure enough, the topic we chose to discuss appeared in ads on both of our devices in the days after that. My daughter was so astounded that she began discussing the suspected eavesdropping in front of the devices in question.

After that, the ads stopped.

Was something or someone listening in to our conversations? Did they realize that we were suspicious of them after my kid mentioned the fact, or was it all a big coincidence that advertising related to our private conversations stopped appearing when the kid talked about it in front of the devices?

I don’t know, but it has made me more than concerned.

It is common knowledge that Google earns money through advertising. Microsoft began to follow that trend by forcing users to watch ads if they wanted to play their games without a subscription. Even Ubuntu Linux offered Amazon advertising based upon your searches in the Unity Dash for a time. In an era of devices set up to respond on “Hey Siri,” “OK Google,” and “Alexa, order this for me,” is it a stretch of the imagination to wonder if these devices are listening in more than they claim?

When you add the NSA to the picture things become even darker. Edward Snowden fled to Russia after he revealed that our government was collecting frightening amounts of information. Microsoft and other major companies actively aided the US government through a thing called Prism. While Apple was one of the holdouts when Steve Jobs was still alive, they now admit to the fact that they analyze the photos you upload to the Cloud. They claim that it is to help stop child abuse. In light of my recent experience with their devices, I am beginning to wonder if images are all they are scanning.

Businesses exist for the sole purpose of making money. They make this money by encouraging us to buy the things they want to sell. To encourage us to buy, they promote their products and services through advertising.

What would stop Microsoft from profiting from this? What would stop any company from profiting from this? Who would know if Microsoft sold our private information to advertisers? We can’t exactly go through the source code of Windows to find out if they’re harvesting it. What would stop Apple from doing the same now that Steve Jobs is gone? We already know that Google and Amazon do this with their devices. That is what they were designed for, after all. Watch the ads they display of people using their devices to order stuff online and that fact becomes obvious.

And what if all of this goes deeper than simple marketing? Is there a chance that the police will show up at our doors if one of our devices overhears us discussing something considered illegal? A woman has already been investigated by police after she searched for a pressure cooker online. Is that going to become our reality?

Should we be worried, even if we feel that we have nothing to hide? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Edit:

Another question occurred to me after I published this post. If the government is collecting information on us, could it be that they are secretly repaying their information sources in the form of tax breaks? Inquiring minds would like to know.


It is hypocritical to run a website about buying and living on less while begging your readers to buy your crap so I refuse to do it. That said, I live on the money I receive from book sales, so if you can find it in your heart to pitch in I would be immensely grateful.

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
Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

Categories
Productivity Simplicity

Disconnect

As the days stretch into months I’ve gotten rather lazy when it comes to guarding my personal time. Whereas I used to go to extreme measures to have quiet time in which to write I found my days have become a whirlwhind of messages, comments, and other communications from folks both near and far. Every time I would sit down to write I would end up being interrupted, losing my train of thought, or going on some random goose chase down the halls of the Internet.

Ding.

Ding.

Ding.

<Hey, you on?>

<I see you’re online. Why are you ignoring me?>

Random thoughts. Pointless comments. Gifs and pics and jokes galore. The more I asked people to leave me be so that I could write the more they seemed to want to communicate until I realized that I was approaching my breaking point.

Early one morning as the beeps began I found myself missing my ancient Windows XP laptop. It might have been old and decrepit but it had one serious advantage: it couldn’t go online.

I could turn that old computer on and work all day without having to deal with a single person messaging me. They couldn’t, since the computer wasn’t connected to the Internet.

I leaped out of bed and dived for the ethernet cable attached to my computer. Soon it was unplugged and my world lapsed into silence.

I accomplished more today than I have in over a month.

Do you ever take time to disconnect from the Internet? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Simplicity

Constant Connectivity

The other day I found myself thinking of the days of dial-up Internet connections. You went online, did your thing, and then went offline to go on with your day. As a result of the intermittent connection you didn’t have the constant interruptions. Your email wasn’t constantly pinging, your Facebook contacts weren’t constantly demanding your attention…when you were online, you were online, but when you were offline your time was your own once again.

It is easy in this modern age to lose track of time with the constant demands of others. Instead of being present with your family and friends, we stare at our phones as we text and communicate with everyone but the ones we are with.

This needs to change.

Now that my daughter is working at a public job we are no longer able to spend as much time with one another as we have in the past. Our interactions are crammed in between her school, her work, and her studies, so it has become much more valuable. At first I didn’t realize this but when my daughter came home after a stressful day at school I knew what had to be done. I messaged my friends and told them that my daughter was off for the evening and I needed to spend time with her. I then shut my computer down and did just that. We sat and talked for hours, eventually settling down on the couch to read books. Not talking by that point, just enjoying the company of one another as we did our own thing.

Of course I was hit with a bunch of messages when I went online this morning but that’s okay. My daughter was more important and I gave her the time that we both needed to reconnect.

I went to sleep thinking about this drive we now have to be constantly online. This pointless need to check our Facebook fifty times a day and to converse online with everyone but the person we happen to be face to face with and it disturbed me to realize just how far I’ve fallen. Instead of spending time with the person I love the most I spend it online doing pointless stuff.

The thought made me so angry that I was tempted to cancel my internet on the spot. However, I realized that the problem isn’t with the Internet, it is with me personally. It’s not the fault of the Internet that I spend too much time online any more than it is the fault of food that people overeat or the problem of alcohol that people become alcoholics. The problem is with ourselves and a lack of setting limits in our lives.

So this is me, setting another limit in my life. Just like I only eat when I am hungry (and stop when I’m full) I am only going to use the Internet to check my emails and surf occasionally. Instead of being constantly online I will go on, do my thing, and then return to my peaceful offline existence.

For the record I’m not sure how well I will manage this. The hardest part will be managing the expectations of others but it is something I need to do in order to reclaim my life.

Will you join me in this new goal?