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Protect Your Privacy by Avoiding Malware

The last few years have brought heightened attention to the necessity of cybersecurity and important precautions to protect internet users, but unfortunately hackers seem to develop new attack strategies as fast as people catch up with the last ones. Here’s what internet users need to understand today (though who knows what new issues tomorrow will bring).

There’s a variety of types of malware (short for malicious software), which is any program that runs on a computer without a user’s knowledge and performs predetermined features that cause harm.

Adware, for example, resides on a computer without a user’s knowledge and displays pop-up advertisements. Computers effected by adware run the risk of constantly being disturbed by annoying ads

A virus is a program that is programmed to spread itself across files on a single computer or even across computers using the internet. ¬†Often computer hackers create viruses just to mess with people, or to see how far they can get it to spread before it’s contained. If the virus does spread far, it’s a source of pride and bragging rights for the creator.

A worm is like a virus but it spreads itself around a network by creating copies of itself as it spreads and might be able to change its profile to avoid detection. One of the most famous worms ever created was developed by the US and Israeli governments. They infected an Iranian nuclear power plant with the worm so that a variety of mechanical issues would slow down Iranian nuclear progress without seeming like there was any outside involvement. The point was to just make the disruptions seem like bad luck. Neither the US or Israeli government has confirmed they were responsible for the worm.

trojanA Trojan is named for the infamous horse of Greek mythology because it takes on the appearance of something benign and, once downloaded onto your computer, enacts harm to computer by erasing your hard disk or deleting all your image files. It can also gather information and send it to its creator.

Spyware is a kind of software that secretly resides within a computer’s programs and sends information to its programmer. This information could span from browser history to passwords and login information. Often spyware just acts as a way to release pop ups onto someone’ s computer, but they can be really eulaharmful when they’re used to hack into people’s online bank accounts.

Finally, a cookie (which doesn’t really count as malware) is a small data file used by websites to store information on your computer, whether it’s a shoppingwebsite that wants to identify items you’ve looked at or a website that you’ve given permission to store your password.
It is much more likely that these various forms of malware will gain access to your computer through your own error; this happens more often than malware somehow downloading itself onto a computer. That means that the best mode of prevention is for users to be careful and always read the EULA before downloading any program from the internet.

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The Debate Around Data Encryption

Whether your data exists in the cloud or on a hard drive, investing in its encryption has probably crossed your mind. As terrorism continues to scar the global climate, the ability of consumers to encrypt their data has become a matter of political debate; some officials believe that consumer encryption presents a substantial threat to national security, while privacy advocates strive to further limit the ability of the government to pry through citizens’ personal information without a warrant.

paris attacksThe tragic attacks on Paris last Friday have only further fueled the topic; CIA director John Brennan stated that he hoped the violence would serve as “a wakeup call” to those who oppose government surveillance in favor of personal privacy. He continued, “There are a lot of technological capabilities that are available right now that make it exceptionally difficult both technically as well as legally for intelligence securities to have the insight that they need to uncover [important public safety information].”

Brennan blamed Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection for what he believes to be a recently heightened insecurity within the U.S. and global climates: “There have been some policy and legal and other actions that make our ability, collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”

FBI director James Comey also claims that encryption is a national security threat, claiming that it enables criminals to “go dark.”

This debate gains speed as the 2016 primary debates continue to unfold, forcing candidates to identify their positions in a very new-age problem.

Most of the Republican candidates have already taken a side and let it be known; the common consensus among G.O.P. members is that a consumer’s right to data encryption is trumped by the societal value of government surveillance.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the exception to the rule, as he stated last week that governments should have to require warrants to access people’s communications. His statements responding directly to encryption are pending (a relevant distinction to make given that encrypted information is extremely difficult to access, even with a warrant).

Democratic candidates have slightly more variant opinions. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been outspoken regarding his opposition to government surveillance and voiced his intention to shut down the NSA’s surveillance program at the first Democratic primary debate.

hillary clintonFormer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a less clearly outlined opinion; she supported the controversial PATRIOT Act in 2001 and more recently claimed that the recently passed Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) did not adequately encourage tech companies to share information with the US government. Conversely, she endorsed the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s bulk data collection program, and applauded its ability “to protect our security and civil liberties.”

Clinton freely admits that the encryption/cybersecurity issue is “a classic hard choice.”

“I would be the first to say I don’t have an answer,” she said. “I think there are really strong, legitimate arguments on both sides.”

The issue may boil down to the amount of trust US citizens have in their government; they have to guess whether the government will protect them or oppress them with the power of their private information.