Monday, March 27, 2017

Using the web to stay safe on the internet

So, my family (in particular, my husband and I) have used two different web-based services this year, both of which we heard about from my campus InfoSec guru.

The first of these is LastPass, web-based app that helps us remember -- and even safely share -- a myriad of internet passwords.  I will be one of the first people to say I didn't think I needed a site like this.  I had a lovely (and highly mathematical) system for devising complicated, long (therefore more secure), hard-to-guess passwords that were unique to each site I went to.  I really got interested in LastPass because my husband used pretty much the same password for every site he used, and I wanted to try to help his side of our internet usage more secure.

But I very quickly got hooked on how much I like LastPass for myself.  For one thing, if you opt for the $12/year version, which I did, you can share passwords with other people of your choosing.  This not only meant that I could share certain passwords with my husband, but also (if I wanted) with my daughters.  I was thinking about how one of my daughters had the sad experience, a few years back, of dealing with her father's illness and subsequent death -- a list of passwords to his financial records was a big help to her and the executors.  Fortunately, I don't think I'm close to needing an executor.  But it is nice to be able to securely store information like social security numbers and credit card stuff, and have my husband be able to access that from his phone when he's at some government office trying to fill out paperwork for our sons.

Even more, I've come to love the fact that LastPass recognizes legitimate sites and does NOT recognize spam sites.  So if I get a phishing email and absent-mindedly click on a link, LastPass won't fill in my password there.  But on any legitimate site that I've signed up for, LastPass has me logged in in just a click or two of the mouse.  So even though I thought I didn't need it for myself, I've come to appreciate the convenience of it.

The other web application that we've started using is OpenDNS.  This is an application that helps to secure our home router.  (And it's free!)  According to our InfoSec guru, OpenDNS maintains a list (updated constantly) of spammy sites, and so it keeps anyone using your home's internet system from logging into those sites.  Signing up took us, I think, about 15 minutes, mostly because we had to remember our router info.

Even better, once you sign up, you can set your home's system to guard against various levels of questionable usage.  Because of various issues regarding our sons and their phones, we have our blocking set at "low" ("Protects against pornography") but we could have chosen even more filtering, all the way up to "high" ("protects against all adult-related sites, illegal activity, social networking sites, video sharing sites, and general time-wasters").

Nowadays, if we try to link to a site that OpenDNS deems as suspicious, we just get a page that looks like this:

Honestly, I wish I'd known about this site years ago, when my sons were first getting their phones.  It wouldn't have solved all of the problems they'd had with internet freedom, but it would have helped a LOT.  

Plus, we're not likely to compromise our home network by having someone click on a trojan virus link.  So I'm feeling pretty happy about that.  

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