Are You Safe & Secure On The Web?

Following my class at Solo Practice University on the changes to Google’s privacy policies and terms of service, I have found myself in a lot of conversations about web privacy generally. It pays to spend some time thinking about actions and consequences on the Web. So I thought I would discuss some tips here about staying as safe as possible in the virtual wilds of the World Wide Web.

 

First, consider your browser. The big three: Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Oh, and Safari too. 😉

 

Chrome comes with security settings enabled by default. These protections include malware and phishing notifications – it will warn if it detects malicious content on sites you may be visiting. Chrome can be adjusted to permit or refuse cookies, Javascript, pop-ups, plug-ins, images, and location sharing. You also can manage SSL setting and certificates. When you enable SSL, Chrome will encrypt all sensitive data communications. Settings can be found by clicking the wrench in the upper right corner of the tool bar. Click on options, then “Under the hood” and find the setting you wish to tweak.

 

IE has a “smartscreen filter” and several security settings enabled by default. It can identify impostor web sites designed to capture sensitive data. When loading files, it will flash high warnings for risky files, but allow loading of reputable or well known files. It will also alert you of potential harm before permitting software to enter your computer. Simply click on the “Safety “button in the Internet explorer, then “SmartScreen filter” and select it.

 

Firefox has its Favicon in the URL bar – hover and it will give an overview of whether a site is safe or not. Click it and you will get more information such as whether passwords are saved and number of visits. Firefox also warns against Trojans and other malware. Firefox maintains a list of phony phishing sites that are updated daily. It integrates with your antivirus software. To get into your Firefox settings, click on “Tools”, then “Options,” then “Security”.

 

Macs are often considered to be “safe” from such unwanted intrusions. But there have been instances of Mac-borne viruses, so it is worth getting familiar with your Safari security settings. Unclick the “open safe files after downloading” box in the General settings. Go into “Preferences” then “Security” and check the “Warn when visiting a fraudulent website” checkbox Safari will then advise when you are about to visit a website that has been reported as fraudulent or distributes malware.

 

On any browser, look for the “lock” icon and “https” in the URL bar. This connotes that the site is secure and is using encryption to protect your information.

 

Another concept that comes up frequently in web browsing is anonymous browsing through the use of proxy servers. Anonymous web browsing is browsing the Web without revealing your IP address or any other personally identifiable information to the websites that you are visiting. A proxy server is a server that serves as the “middleman” between your local request for action and the response from a server somewhere else. The request can be for a file, a connection, a web page or some other Web resource residing on another server. Many people use anonymous proxy servers to mask their identity while browsing. While there certainly nefarious reasons for doing so, it is a technique that can also be used to protect your privacy and disconnect you from search history. VPN (“virtual private network”) servers also allow anonymous browsing, and are often used within the enterprise to protect against infiltration by unwanted intruders or protect against the dissemination of sensitive information.

 

Worried about tracking cookies? There are ways to deal with those right within your browser. In IE, go to Control Panel, Internet Options, Privacy, and either choose the slider preset that blocks third-party cookies, or go into Advanced, Override automatic cookie handling, and then check Block under ‘Third-party cookies’. In Safari, go to Edit, Preferences, Privacy, and set ‘Block cookies’ to “From third parties and advertisers.” In Firefox, click on Options, Privacy, select “Use Custom Settings for History” from the drop-down menu and uncheck “Accept third-party cookies.” In Chrome, head to Options, then “Under the Hood,” then “Content Settings” in which you will check “Block third-party cookies From Being Set.” You also can deal with these within Google’s Ad Preference manager here or on a grander scale via the Opt Out From Online Behavior tool here.

 

Finally, there are tools to help you boost your security level on the Web. While the browsers all have some form of “incognito” mode, Cocoon is an extension for Firefox and IE, as well as mobile version, that blocks both cookies and IP addresses by routing your page requests through their servers. It has built in virus scanning tools and provides a disposable email address creator, keeping the spam out of your mail email inbox, as well as a handy “notes” feature – jot down notes on any web page and view them from your history. Very nice.

 

To access your browser’s incognito mode, do the following. In IE 9, InPrivate Browsing can be found with a Ctrl-Shift-P, Chrome’s Incognito Mode can be accessed with a Ctrl-Shift-N, Firefox’s Private Browsing mode is set with Ctrl-Shift-P, and Safari can too, with Private Browsing selectable from the Edit menu.

 

Maybe you don’t like so much social in your browsing, consider Antisocial for Chrome and ShareMeNot for Firefox. These will interfere with sharing buttons across the Web, such as Facebook’s “Like” and Google’s “+1”. Whether by preventing them from loading or by keeping them from reporting back to the social juggernaut whence they spawn, these extensions prevent tracking and keep your browsing and your social separate. Of course, you can log out of your social networks when you are done with them to keep sharing activity to a minimum as well.

 

Finally, although it doesn’t work on every site, HTTPS Everywhere will help enable HTTPS on sites that allow for it. When the site is HTTPS enabled, this extension will activate the HTTPS connection to encrypt your communication with those websites. Available in Firefox and Chrome flavors. Brought to you by the fine folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 

Use as many or as few of these tips to meet your comfort level on the Web. Remember to read privacy policies and terms of service on any of the sites on which you may want to spend time. Make sure you maintain control over your own information and web experience. Because if you don’t, who will?

 

 

Run, Don't Walk, To 50GB Free Cloud Storage Via Box

Ever watching out for the free goods, I clapped with delight when I saw this great deal. If you are the lucky owner of an Android device, and you find the idea of free cloud storage and collaboration pretty nifty, then download Box’s mobile storage application for Android, log into your account and, Voila!, you will be gifted with 50GB of free storage. That ain’t no chump change – you can hold a lot of stuff with 50GB.

Box offered a similar incentive for iPhone / iPad users back in the fall. Now Android fans can partake of the free-ness.

Box distinguishes itself from services like DropBox by focusing more on easy collaboration. It most closely resembles Google Docs with file / folder sharing, version tracking and collaboration tools. It bears noting that the per file size limit is 25 MB for free users, which may not be enough for certain of your file types. You can upgrade to 1GB file sizes for $10 / month. Another important limitation: there is no desktop application for the free version like DropBox – you have to download your docs, edit, and then upload and can’t get auto-updates in all places – not quite as handy as Google Doc’s ability to permit edits in the cloud. Nonetheless, free is free and 50GB is 50GB. And, on the plus side, Box integrates with a lot of other services like Gmail, Google Docs, and Microsoft Office, so there are work arounds to be had.

So, grab that storage while its hot. There must be something you can put in the Box.

Digitizing Your Paper Manuals

Trying to go paperless here. While I can definitely see the prize to be won, I am finding the process quite cumbersome. It has been made more difficult by the unanticipated rupture of a main water line and unwanted intrusion of a great deal of water into my basement office where Scan Central previously was located. While I struggle with insurance adjusters (nothing like being on the other side of the fence), my scanning project has hit “hold” status.

So, I of course was attracted to an article over at Apartment Therapy about finding and saving product manuals into the iPad-friendly iBooks format. This is a very cool process that doesn’t require a scanner.

If you have ever lost a manual and needed to recover it, you probably are familiar with the process of searching for the manual online in your favorite search engine of choice. For the most part, I have been successful in finding the manuals I have needed. Expand that effort to include all manuals you may someday need (take a look at that bursting at the seams paper manual file for a decent start on your list). Search, find and download. Then toss the paper.

Open iTunes, hit the File Menu and select Add To Library. Find the documents you have downloaded and select them. Grab the iPad and connect it – make sure you have books selected to sync and check all those manuals you captured. After they hit the iPad, slot them all into a Collection / Category within iBooks on the iPad itself. After you organize within iBooks, sync again and that organization will transfer back into iTunes for easy filing and reference. Because they are already saved on the desktop, you need not keep them all in iBooks, but they are there and available if you want to shift them on or off the iPad for ease of use. And, because I am a search-head, digitizing this way makes it easy to jump right to the section you want with a keyword and a click.

Voila! Instant manual order. Thanks, Apartment Therapy.

Factbrowser Condenses Business & Market Research, Filter By Filter

Need to know the facts on business and technology but don’t have the time to sift? Factbrowser bills itself as a discovery engine for research and technology, and apparently is designed to streamline the trip between asked and answered. The site taps a database that is constantly being supplemented, with a great deal of filter-ability. The intent of the service is to provide researchers with solid facts and data to support decisions and analysis.

What I like about Factbrower’s results is that it attributes research to its original source, links to the source’s homepage and the piece of content it references. The list of topics is not large in number but definitely diverse in content. There is a format filter that targets attitudes, behaviors, business models, demographics, market structure, reach and strategy. Information filters include case studies, forecasts and infographics. The Industries filter is fairly broad, while the Companies filter is pretty much focused on the biggest players. The Sources list, however, is quite large and impressive, clearly including some familiar names as well as some well-respected niche repositories. Consumer filters are broken down by typical demographics, as are the listings under the regions tab. Simply click on the topic and then filter under the foregoing lists to refine the results. Then, collect the RSS feed of those results and stay up to date as relevant news / information breaks. The idea is just great and can only get greater as they add more content and filters to the mix. The site is mobile optimized, so it is pretty easy to view what’s cooking while on the go.

Check it out and see if you can’t tailor a search to your needs – Factbrowser de-fluff’s the news and stats  for you and delivers it to your virtual doorstep.

Guest Post: Flying Solo In The Cloud

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, LEED AP, and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC. Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions and is a member of the Virginia Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” for 2011.  He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. You can follow him on Twitter at @constructionlaw.

First of all, I’m thrilled to cross post for a third time here at the Studio. Today, you can check out Martha’s great post on changes and fun with Google after you read this.

When I contacted Martha for what she’d like for a post, we decided on “the Cloud.” I know, this has been done to death. The “cloud” is everywhere. SEO and other tech buzzwords rule Twitter and blogs. I feel as if it’s all around us and that we can’t escape it. Smarter folks than I have discussed the ethical, practical and legal implications of the use of the “cloud” (read Internet) in legal practice. If you are looking for a discussion of those types of high level thoughts and implications, you are in the wrong place.

As anyone that reads Musings will know, I am not anti-cloud (and I love to read the Advocate’s Studio to keep up on the latest tech). I use Web 2.0 (or whatever we call it now) for marketing, client development and other helpful things, so please don’t turn away at this point because you think I will be panning use of internet based practice tools in legal practice (or construction practice for that matter).

When I went out on my own on July 1, 2010, I embraced the mobility available through cloud based tools. I am the entire staff of my law firm, so I needed to streamline and go paperless (to the extent possible in legal practice) to keep my practice manageable. I signed up for Clio, hooked my trusty laptop to the internet, later purchased a ScanSnap scanner, bought a Blackberry Playbook (yes, I’m still using a Blackberry), and charged forward. While the scanner is not in the cloud, it keeps my paper to my goal of a two drawer file cabinet.

Now, when documents come in, I scan the documents; send them to Clio through its great document mail drop service that files the document to the right matter; and, stamp it “scanned” and either shred or file it away (there are still documents I need to keep in original form). I also keep a record of e-mails that go back and forth in the same manner. With the documents redundantly saved on Clio’s servers, I can get to them wherever I can find a web connection.

I bill clients by e-mail (often with just a web link allowing them to see and pay their bill). I accept credit card payments over the web. I occasionally collaborate through Dropbox and/or Google Docs. Without web based practice tools, my practice would not run as smoothly.

On the other hand (and you knew there’d be one, didn’t you?), I do not think that the Web is the be all and end all of legal practice and marketing. Particularly with my clientele (contractors and subcontractors), the value of a handshake, and having boots on the ground cannot be underestimated. While having a web presence is, in my opinion, necessary, it cannot be all that I use. The flood of web based possibilities seems endless, but trying to use all of them would kill my productivity and, frankly, cause my eyes to hurt from staring at a screen.

In other words, the cloud is great, but there’s way too much out there to use it all so take what you need and leave the rest. I have on more than one occasion referred to myself as a “MASH unit lawyer,” dealing with claims and practical, non-cloud based issues, with what I hope to be a level of pragmatism. I take this same ethic to the “cloud” with me. Judicious use of the cloud allows my practice to run and it can help yours too. Just be sure to get your head out of the cloud on occasion.

Mobile Blogging Battle: Android or iOS

Little did you know it but my last two posts, Slapping Microsoft Word Into Shape and Evernote Clearly Improves Reading Experience across Platforms, Devices, were part of a grand experiment – a test of mobile blogging experience on my two smartphone, one iOS and one Android. I used the free WordPress app for this self-hosted WordPress blog for both posts. Slapping was written on my iPhone and Evernote was written on my Android powered LG. I started from scratch – finding my topics through my mobile reader program on the respective device, capturing images, and then writing and publishing the posts to see if there was a clear winner in the user experience area. And what did this mad scientist discover?

 

While I preferred the WordPress UI on the Android phone, the experience overall on the iPhone was smoother. This was mostly due to some glitchy performance on the Android phone, which I am generally accustomed to, but it did make the process longer and a bit more difficult. I find it easier to navigate in mobile Safari than I do on mobile Google. Image capture is simpler on the iPhone. But the WordPress Android app is a superior product: the post text and layout is easier to read and you can even access your WordPress Dashboard within the app – you can’t do that in the iOS app, and can only get there via the browser.

 

I have gotten use to typing on these tiny touch screens, so that aspect of the process isn’t a bother. However I have to add that the keyboard on the Android is not nearly as elegant as the iPhone’s keyboard – the Android feels pretty much like you are bludgeoning the language, relying heavily on a sketchy spell checker to fix the ham-handed errors.

 

But, when it is all said and done, the latest versions of these mobile apps are a huge improvement over my early mobile blogging experiences from two or more years ago. I am happy to report that mobile blogging is not the agonizing experience it used to be and is more than doable now, making posting one more time killing option while waiting for an oil change or Motion call. That is, if you can tear yourself away from Angry Birds. And WordPress isn’t your only option. Tumblr, Posterous, and Blogger all have their own mobile applications.

 

And, because I can, this blog post is being drafted on my iPad using the very robust cross platform app, Blogsy. Now. Go forth and write!

 

Evernote Clearly Improves Reading Experience Across Platforms, Devices

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Reading web content is an adventure, to say the least. Ads, flashy banners and irrelevant links everywhere. If you already have bought into the joys of Instapaper, Readability or Read it Later, and you use Evernote, then you have the means to dramatically improve your reading experience across any device that support an Evernote App.

Evernote Clearly is a browser extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox that will allow you to clip full web pages online and automatically rid them of bling for easier off line digestion. Much like Instapaper and it’s competitors. But I like Clearly for a couple of reasons. You can keep your content organized in one location – the much more robust Evernote ecosystem. You can set font size and typestyle for maximum ease. And if you are like me and rock both iOS and Android, Evernote offers the best option for cross-platform collection and viewing.

The only downside is the lack of a mobile extension to similarly collect and clean up web pages on the go – mobile Safari’s built in Reader button can help you in that context. But if you collect on your full Chrome or Firefox browser, you can consolidate your clipping and reading in one convenient application no matter where you happen to be.

Slapping Microsoft Word Into Shape

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Microsoft Word is a necessary evil. I still miss WordPerfect but have been forced by my corporate overlords to adopt Word. Just because I have to use it, though, doesn’t mean I have to like it.

As MS has updated Word, and the Office suite generally, they have added more and more geegaws to the interface, making it look more and more like a victim of Orange County Choppers. TUAW to the rescue here with a bunch of great tweaks for stripping it back down to its elements. I already employ many of these tweaks, such as turning off tool bars and using full screen mode. But did you know you could disable the status bar, set your default folder for new files to DropBox, and even set your visual preference to return your view to the old DOS blue-screen-white-text? Now there’s a throwback for you!

Thanks TUAW for the great Word Improvement tips!

CloudMagic Offers Lightning Fast Search on Android

Finding the needle in your content haystack can be a troublesome affair. I have thousands of old messages in my Gmail, over 11,000 tweets, and lots of other stuff that I have collected over the past few years and have shoved into the virtual shoebox at the back of the closet. The difference between efficiency and wandering aimlessly often comes down to how fast you can retrieve that bit of information you need for a particular matter at a particular time. That is where CloudMagic comes in.

CloudMagic is an Android (and iOS) application that indexes your Google and Twitter content and can retrieve it for you instantaneously with predictive search suggestions as you type. It retains search history for when you may need to come back to your search. It works with  Gmail correspondence, calendar events, Google Docs documents, contacts, and tweets and sports some very effective filtering tools. It comes in an Android app and browser extensions for on-line, desktop use. And it’s free.

The application reminds me of Greplin on iOS, but falls short in terms of services it can access. However, it is more than a decent start, particularly if you are tied to an Android platform.

Check out the video below to learn more about this great, cross-platform mobile search tool.