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8 Smart Ways to Protect Yourself (and Your Stuff) Online

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We’ve all heard the basics: Choose different passwords for each account, keep your data backed up, and don't open e-mails from suspicious senders. But beyond this, how can we protect ourselves online? The world of cybersecurity can seem daunting, but there are many simple security measures we could (and should) be taking online, but too often skip. mental_floss spoke with Eyal Sela, cyber analyst at ClearSky, about the best ways to protect yourself online.

1. UPDATE YOUR SOFTWARE.

Updating your software is essential for maintaining your cybersecurity, as doing so can protect you from viruses that are only susceptible to an outdated version of software or an operating system. “One of the most prevalent reasons for software updates is vulnerabilities,” Sela says. Many of us ignore the pop-up on our screen asking to update our software, but a simple click can often save trouble in the long term.

2. TRUST NO ONE.

Limiting your Internet access to trusted websites does not automatically protect you from vulnerabilities; legitimate sites can still be infected through malicious advertisements or third parties.

Additionally, when you install an add-on to your browser, this often grants the add-on access to all your data. For example, an application that gives you statistics on your Gmail account must have access to your information in order to do so. “This is something to be aware of because anyone can develop an add-on for your browser and get access to your data,” Sela says.

Be vigilant about the applications you choose to download to your computer and phone, and minimize the use of anything third-party. “Think about it like giving someone your car to park it. You would only do that with someone you trust,” Sela says. Moreover, anything digital that sits on your computer is inherently vulnerable. With this in mind, “if there’s something you can’t bear to expose, you might want to consider not having it on your computer at all,” Sela suggests.

3. DISABLE CERTAIN PLUG-INS FROM RUNNING AUTOMATICALLY.

You can set particular plug-ins, such as Flash, to a "click to play" mode. That way, if the movie hosted on the website you’re browsing is vulnerable, you won’t get infected.

Sela suggests an even further precaution: disabling more widely used programs like JavaScript. He warns this may be cumbersome because many websites won’t function without JavaScript, and you will have to manually update the websites you trust to work on your computer. This may be unnecessary for the average user, but, Sela explains, “Security is a tradeoff. Sometimes you have to work harder to be more secure and it’s up to you to decide how much effort you are willing to put in.”

4. ENABLE A TWO-STEP VERIFICATION FOR YOUR MAIN ONLINE ACCOUNTS.

You can set your online accounts like Gmail or Facebook to require two forms of verification upon signing in. This means that in order to log into your account you’ll have to provide your password as well as a code that is sent to your cell phone in real time.

There are various settings for a two-step verification: You can choose to enable it every time you log in, each time you log in from a different device, or simply once a month, depending on your security needs.

5. GET SMART ABOUT BACKING UP.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about someone who forgot to back up their photo library or their term paper, only to spill their coffee on their laptop and lose everything. And as such, it's near common knowledge that you need an external hard drive to keep your files safe. 

But when backing up, it’s important to know that if your external drive is continually connected to your computer, then it won’t protect your data in case of a hack. If your computer is compromised, your external drive will be, too. “The key issue here is to keep your backup separated from your computer, and only connect it once in a while,” Sela explains.

Cloud solutions are great options, but these platforms can also be compromised if someone breaches your account or the platform itself. If you have important data, Sela recommends keeping a third backup.

6. COVER YOUR WEBCAM FOR SECURITY.

You can cover your webcam with a small device when you're not using it as an extra security measure to prevent hackers from accessing your video camera. “You have to be aware that your computer and your phone are devices with cameras and microphones connected to the Internet, and if someone gets access to it, they could get access to your camera too,” Sela says. 

In 2013, Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf and several other women learned this the hard way, when a young man hijacked their computers' webcams in order to take photos of them undressing. The perpetrator was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his crimes.

Although most cameras have an indicator light that turns on when they are in use, this signal isn't foolproof (or hack-proof). You can use a piece of tape or buy a plastic chip to cover up the camera when you're not using it.

7. ENCRYPT YOUR DATA.

Anyone who has access to your physical devices will be able to easily access your files and data, even if you have a password for your computer. The only way to protect your data fully is to encrypt it. You can use a software like BitLocker Drive by Microsoft or FileVault by Apple to do this. You’ll have to enter an additional password for your computer, but this way your data won't be transferrable to another computer.

Even if you don’t deem your personal data sensitive enough to require this extra step, if you have business-related material or other people’s data on your computer, you may want to consider encrypting it.

8. USE A PASSWORD MANAGER.

You can use a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass in order to encrypt and store all of your passwords. You enter a master password to log in, and then the programs will generate the strongest passwords possible, encrypt, and store them. This solves the common problem of not being able to remember several difficult passwords to dozens of accounts.

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Pop Culture
How to Perform the Star Wars Theme—On Calculators
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The iconic Star Wars theme has been recreated with glass harps, theremins, and even cat meows. Now, Laughing Squid reports that the team over at YouTube channel It’s a small world have created a version that can be played on calculators.

The channel’s math-related music videos feature covers of popular songs like Luis Fonsi’s "Despacito," Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You," and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, all of which are performed on two or more calculators. The Star Wars theme, though, is played across five devices, positioned together into a makeshift keyboard of sorts.

The video begins with a math-musician who transcribes number combinations into notes. Then, they break into an elaborate practice chord sequence on two, and then four, calculators. Once they’re all warmed up, they begin playing the epic opening song we all know and love, which you can hear for yourself in all its electronic glory below.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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