Millions of everyday computer users have taken a much greater interest in protecting their digital privacy and security. As such, we've put together this guide as a means of listing some of the tools we find most helpful in that endeavour. (Catch up with the ground rules and some security basics here, Nothing is hack-proof: The guide to safer computing.)
Part 2: Hardware
Since this guide is primarily focused on software, this will be a fairly short section. That isn't to say that your computer hardware is somehow immune to hacking. Indeed, this chilling talk by digital activist Jacob Applebaum shows that the scope of hardware hacking is actually far greater than many of us ever suspected.
But there are very few hardware tools that don't violate one or more of the rules listed at the beginning of this guide. There are some laptops (and smartphones, thanks to Apple) that utilize fingerprint readers, which will give you another layer of security. But it's impossible for us to tell you much about how secure the software side of those fingerprint-readers are, given that it's mostly proprietary technology.
There is another promising technology being built in Canada right now, and we mention it here primarily because it sounds very interesting. It's called Nymi, and it's the brainchild of a Toronto startup called Bionym. It's a wristband that authenticates you by monitoring your unique cardiac rhythm. As long as you're wearing it, the thinking goes, you don't need to type in any passwords. We can't recommend it, because we still haven't had a chance to play around with it, but it sounds fascinating.
As a general rule (and we may get angry e-mails from some retailers for saying this), we try not to buy our PCs from big-box stores. The primary reason for this is that many of these stores will sell you computers preloaded with all kinds of bloated software that isn't just unnecessary, but will often start bugging you to register and pay – so much so that it meets our personal criteria for malware. On top of that, some of these stores will also offer to remove this software – for an extra fee.
There are plenty of smaller, local computer stores and web sites (such as Newegg and Tiger Direct) that will let you buy individual components and build your own computer or, if that sounds too complex, many of these stores will build it for you.
(As an aside, you can always get one of those nifty desktop cases that have a little lock on them. But keep in mind that those locks can often be picked with a toothpick or a particularly hard-eyed stare.)
Next: Operating Systems
Also, this is by no means an exhaustive guide, so if you have any suggestions to add, let us know. And follow me on Twitter at @OmarElAkkad.