The Living Thing / Notebooks :


How to maintain it


How to maintain confidentiality; the twin to politics of confidentiality. Also known as privacy. However, I think that’s a bullshit framing for me personally. If you want to know about my unsavoury habits you can just ask me personally; I live in a somewhat-liberal sorta democracy so it’s no biggie if I get up to things that are OK in Australia even if they aren’t elsewhere.

However, if people tell me their secrets that is a different matter. I don’t want my confidantes’s sexuality, personal tragedies or commercial secrets blurted all over the internet. Maintaining the confidences people have placed in me is a serious business. Time for confidentiality hygiene, people.

tl;dr Security Planner will walk you through this. Or if you want to feel fancier, Andryou’s beginner-friendly tools or Quincy Larson, How to encrypt your entire life in less than an hour.

Technoconfidentiality is difficult and tedious for our monkey minds to get a handle on. However, it’s not too hard. The trick is, don’t get hung up on thinking you are some kind of secret agent who needs to hide from the NSA. If the NSA cares about you, you are not my target audience; I’m sure someone else in your concrete bunker is way more expert than me anyway. I am sure the NSA are a bunch of shits, but they probably aren’t going to harass you personally unless you are in a very unfortunate geopolitical situation. If you live in a repressive state, I wish you all the best, but don’t expect to get actionable advice from an article I maintain to persuade my mum to protect herself from identity thieves and my friends to stop giving free information to Facebook.

Instead, for us normal people, the rule should be: Start by not giving your information away for free to everyone. And don’t simply surrender because it’s too hard: That’s just doing what big business wants you to do..

And don’t give up because you have ‘nothing to hide’; I can’t be arsed making this argument; many other have. Short version: Even if you have nothing to hide, your friends and family don’t want you spraying their personal histories over the internet for them.

That said, just because I’m talking about what our attitude should be as informed consumers of the addictive drug of single-serve online socialising, doesn’t mean I’m blaming Jane/Joe Public for not getting it right. As long as corporate social networks are permitted to harness their heady blend of plausibly-deniable social engineering on the vulnerable, we are all put at greater risk.

Case in point: A friend of mine just showed me his facebook profile public link before friending me; on open, public display to anyone who googled him were pictures of his children, his home, his friends, a dying relative in hospital with confidential medical information and records in the background; With his well-intentioned, sociable handphone wielding he has voluntarily compromised the privacy, and credit-worthiness of his cancer-afflicted aunt.

This kind of thing is tricky. How do you stop friends with crappy privacy hygiene? Privacy is a weakest-link kind of concept, and as long as Facebook can rely on a reasonable fraction of the population voluntarily and unconsciously selling the rest out, we are all compromised. I know that everything I do in front of my aforementioned friend will be obediently tagged and put on public display for the use of not only facebook but any passing mobster, data miner or insurance company. The thing is, it is not sufficient if privacy-violating companies are able to get away with it if in principle experts could avoid some of the pitfalls; Social media is a habit-forming drug that potentially transmits ailments such as credit-score-risk, misinformation and confidential data breaches.

Is it consistence particularly consistence stance to regulate, say, alcohol tobacco and gambling but not social media usage?

This is leaving aside the question of companies who sell your information no matter what you do) or government-business alliances that accidentally leak your information.

Anyway, with blame for the abuse appropriately apportioned to the predators, let’s get back to what we, the victims, can do by taking what responsibility is available to us to take, for all that it should not be required of us.

Right now, if you are a typical internet user, you are walking around with no pants on online. Everyone can see your junk. You don’t need to wear a tinfoil hat to hide your junk, not if your anatomy is anything typical; you just need to put some pants on.

This enpantsing will be more tedious than we’d like, because the world is badly designed, but let’s start with what’s achievable, and work towards making it easier next time, eh?

How we could do it better now

So, some baby steps towards a healthier privacy regime. I am going to list some techniques that have aroused my attention. Later I will triage them according to how urgent is the priority of the privacy leak they plug and how onerous to handle; e.g. something like:

  1. first keep my credit card details out of the hands of the hands of the mafia, then
  2. keep gratuitous personal data out of the hands of unscrupulous corporations, next
  3. keep nude selfies and pony tail pics out of the hands of potential employers
  4. keep personal data out of the hands of prying foreign security agencies
  5. keep personal data out of the hands of prying local security agencies

These reflect my personal needs; if you are actually a person of specific interest to state security agencies, or a mafia credit card thief, you will probably have different ones.

Practically, first step, I would like to minimise the amount of information complete strangers get about me for free. For example, I would prefer the mafia not to be able to buy stuff with my credit cards, I’d prefer my personal relationships are not used sell crap to me, I’d prefer not to release those awkward photos from when I had a pony tail.

Broadly, some stuff I’d like to keep private, some stuff I’d like to share, and some stuff, I’m happy to share for the right price to vetted buyers; I want to assign my personal information to the correct publicness categories, and at a better price point. And by “better”, I mean, “not selling off the foundations of functional democracy for all future times to unaccountable interests for a few dollars a year,” which seems steep for kitten pictures.

General safety


Currently leaking info. See DNS servers.

Search engines

You don’t want large search businesses to know what you are searching for?

Defeating browser trackers

You don’t want miscellaneous commercial entities on the internet profiling and monetising your behaviour?

I really need to tidy the info about these up a bit and explain, because they are so simple and so useful.

Social networks

Se Social media if you must.

VPNs and encrypted networks

See VPNs etc.

A separate browser for every privacy suck

I use a Single-site browser to access Facebook because

  1. otherwise Facebook would know even more about me than they do
  2. Facebook is a blackhole of timewaste that I don’t want to browse to by accident, so I should make it slightly more difficult for myself.

You can do this too, for social media, or for whatever other website you wish to.

Doing various other things with a modicum of discretion


See chat.


See email.

Password manager

You need one. See passwords.

Other confidentiality-violating things


Use a paranoid, very secure OS such as Qubes, which can even weather certain BadUSB attacks.

Going deeper.

You should be approximately aware of the nasty things that people can and will do to your computer. Don’t do them yourself.

Cracking 1024 bit DH keys

sigh. NSA is reading your comms with keys shorter than 2048 bits.

researchers Alex Halderman and Nadia Heninger presented compelling research suggesting that the NSA has developed the capability to decrypt a large number of HTTPS, SSH, and VPN connections using an attack on common implementations of the Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm with 1024-bit primes. […] In this post, we present some practical tips to protect yourself from the surveillance machine, whether you’re using a web browser, an SSH client, or VPN software.

You also need to secure ssh.

Cryptography for normal people

OK, anyway, we shouldn’t all have to be digital privacy experts to survive in the 21st century; How could we change the rules so that we can focus on our day jobs?

(I give you permission to despair if you can do it amusingly, I’d prefer amusingly with hope

Slamming PGP and the cryptopunk model of human behaviour it assumes, that is a cottage industry:

Getting old school

Academic stuff to read to stay paranoid

Politics of privacy

See the quantified other.